Lupus: An Overview

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Lupus: An Overview




Guest:  Sheila Murphy – Lupus Patient

Guest:  Dr. Gary Gilkeson – Rheumatology & Immunology

Host:  Dr. Linda Austin – Psychiatry


Dr. Linda Austin:  When you think about a team of medical researchers, you probably think of men and women in white coats holding clipboards.  But, at the center of the team are the patients who volunteer to work with healthcare professionals, giving their time and cooperation in order unlock the mysteries of their illness and help other people to have an easier course.


Lupus is a fairly common rheumatologic disease causing painful arthritis and often leading to damage of kidneys and sometimes even the brain.  MUSC has a very active lupus research program.  And a very special patient participant is Sheila Murphy.


Sheila Murphy:  The reason that I wanted to participate in this clinical trial was, you know, anything that will help someone else not have to go through what I’ve been through.  I understand that there are people who have this illness that have had a harder time than I have, anything that I can do to help someone else out, you know, lessen their symptoms, I’m all for it.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Sheila Murphy has been treated at MUSC for almost 25 years.  One of her physicians has been Dr. Gary Gilkeson who was recently honored by being chosen for the Henry Kunkel Society, a group of the top 150 researchers in rheumatology nationwide.  Dr. Gilkeson is a national expert in lupus, and he describes the typical symptoms of the illness.


Dr. Gary Gilkeson:  Lupus is an autoimmune disease where the patient’s immune system turns against themselves.  It’s primarily a disease of young women, and it’s more prominent in African-Americans than it is in Caucasians.  We see approximately 600 patients with lupus here at MUSC.  The symptoms are primarily skin rash, arthritis, hair loss, mouth ulcers.  You can also get renal disease and brain disease associated with lupus.  It’s reasonably common.  Approximately 1 out of 150 to 200 young African-American women will, in this area, have lupus.  We can control it in most cases, but it can be a very serious and life-threatening disease.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Sheila Murphy’s symptoms were not unusual.


Sheila Murphy:  Initially, I had a lot of joint inflammation, lost some weight.  Those are the major ones that I can think of.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Sheila Murphy is participating in two different clinical trials at MUSC.


Sheila Murphy:  The first one that I participated in is the BLyS study.  It’s a Phase III clinical trial where the medication that they’re using is infused.  We’re hoping that it will help patients ease some of the symptoms of lupus.  The second study is not so intense.  I come down and I do some blood work.  They do a U/A on me, which is a urinalysis, and they do a carotid ultrasound.

Dr. Linda Austin:  In addition to studying new treatments for lupus, Dr. Gilkeson and his colleagues are trying to understand the genetic basis for the illness.  His group is particularly interested in lupus patients in the Gullah population.  The Gullah people are descendants of African-American slaves who settled on the barrier islands off the coast of the Carolinas, in Georgia.  They have a high incidence of lupus and Dr. Gilkeson wants to understand just why.


Dr. Gary Gilkeson:  They are more or less and isolated population that is genetically homogeneous as well as environmentally somewhat homogeneous and that makes a perfect population to look at environmental and genetic factors.  A Gullah individual that has lupus is more than twice as likely to have a first-degree relative that has lupus than our other population.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Other researchers at MUSC are interested in nutritional issues in lupus.


Dr. Gary Gilkeson:  Dr. Diane Kamen, here at MUSC, became interested in vitamin D.  And, as most of the listeners are aware, there’s a lot of interest in vitamin D in a lot of disease.  But, in looking at vitamin D levels in the Gullah population, the patients and the controls have significantly low levels of vitamin D, with over 95 percent being deficient, and over 50 percent, or close to 50 percent, being severely deficient.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Thanks to the special teamwork of patients like Sheila Murphy and doctors like Gary Gilkeson, real progress is being made to improve the lives of patients with lupus.


Sheila Murphy:  The doctors really make you feel at ease in terms of talking to them, asking questions.  At any point in time, they’re available to you.  I’ve always felt that with the doctors that I see.  That doesn’t happen very often. 


Dr. Linda Austin:  Many thanks to Sheila Murphy and Dr. Gary Gilkeson and his colleagues.  I’m Dr. Linda Austin.


If you or a loved one would like to learn more about clinical trials and lupus, you can call 843-792-2668.  


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