For anyone that is even half as much of a fan of the television show House as I am, Lupus seems like the disease-of-choice for doctors to throw around in order to explain unexplainable medical conditions. What’s that? A girl is bleeding out of her eyeballs, has green skin and thinks she is Paul McCartney? Must be Lupus.
As most people in the world, this was the extent of my knowledge about the disease until a few years ago when I met a young woman afflicted with the disease. But I didn’t even know it for quite a while. She just seemed like your average American woman, though much nicer, smarter and fun than most. That is, until she ended up in the hospital for nearly two months battling for her life.
Luckily, she had the strength to fight off the “flare-up,” but she along with at least 1.5 million other Americans live in constant fear of the nasty disease rearing its ugly head at any given time. You see, most Lupus patients live completely normal lives until some unknown mechanism sends their auto-immune system into haywire overdrive, causing the body to literally attack itself. What’s more, there is no way to know when these flares are going to happen.
At least, there didn’t use to be.
Research conducted by a team led by Emily Baechler Gillespie at the University of Minnesota’s Medical School is helping develop a new test that could help doctors manage systemic lupus erythematosus. The technology monitors levels of four proteins that are released by an activated immune system in the patient’s blood. These changes can indicate when a flare is coming, letting doctors adjust medication levels in the hopes of relieving at least some of the symptoms.
Though they have high hopes these tests can help, there is still no known cure for the disease, and treatments are as simple and unrefined as pumping steroids into the patients. The cause of the disease is still unknown, even though many people are trying to raise awareness.
In fact, another pretty incredible individual I met a few years ago out in northern Idaho has gone above and beyond most others. He raised more than $3,500 and competed in a 530-mile race across the state of Oregon. On a bicycle. Damn.