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Lupus Program

The Massachusetts General Hospital Lupus Program conducts groundbreaking research and takes a multidisciplinary approach to caring for patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus).

A Team Approach to Treating Lupus

Multidisciplinary expertise, a major strength at Mass General, is essential in diagnosing and caring for patients with lupus, which can affect multiple tissues and organs.

At the Mass General Lupus Program, our rheumatologists work as a team with other world-class specialists throughout the hospital to manage care for lupus patients. These specialists include:

  • Dermatologists
  • Nephrologists
  • Pathologists
  • Neurologists
  • Ophthalmologists

Our rheumatologists also work side-by-side with scientists in the Center for Immunology and Inflammatory Diseases to improve our understanding of lupus and develop better, more effective treatments. This close "bench-to-bedside" collaboration between clinicians and scientists has been instrumental in enhancing the quality of care for our lupus patients.

What to Expect

All physicians in the Rheumatology Unit are highly experienced in caring for lupus patients. Because a single test cannot confirm whether a patient has lupus, our rheumatologists can usually confirm a diagnosis based on medical history, symptoms and a physical examination that includes a blood test. Our Clinical Immunology Laboratory is particularly skilled in analyzing blood samples for certain antibodies that are present in most people with lupus.

Your individualized treatment plan will depend on several factors, including extent and severity of organ damage. We also take into account the nature of your lupus, as the process may be caused by inflammation or by a hypercoagulable state (a condition in which blood clots tend to form).

Access to Both Traditional & Emerging Therapies

Although there is no cure for lupus, we offer therapies that help patients lead active lives by managing disease symptoms. Common treatment approaches include:

  • Conventional immunosuppressive medications, which are designed to dampen the inflammatory responses associated with lupus
  • Anti-malarial medications, which were first developed to treat malaria but are also effective in helping control lupus

In addition, our patients can take part in clinical trials that provide access to new and promising therapies. Find out how to participate.

Because of the intermittent and relapsing nature of lupus symptoms, most of our patients receive lifelong care at Mass General. However, if you do not live in the area, we can co-manage care with your local physician and see you once a year to monitor your health.

Please note: Lupus is a vascular disease that can lead to a host of blood-vessel problems. Consequently, it is important for patients to develop a healthy lifestyle that incorporates regular exercise and "heart-healthy" diets. However, there are no specific dietary interventions that alter the activity of lupus itself.

Treating the Multi-organ Nature of Lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the patient's immune system attacks the skin, joints, kidneys, blood cells, brain and other healthy tissues and organs. Characterized by periodic episodes of inflammation, the condition impacts each individual differently and causes symptoms ranging from mild to severe.

At the Mass General Lupus Program, we take a multidisciplinary approach to treating lupus. Depending on how the patient is affected, our rheumatologists may coordinate patient care with other world-class specialists throughout the hospital, including dermatologists, nephrologists, pathologists, neurologists and ophthalmologists.

A Rich Tradition in Research & Clinical Care

The Rheumatology Unit has a rich tradition of research and clinical care in lupus. Marian Ropes, MD (1903-1994), one of the premier rheumatologists of her time, wrote an extensive monograph on lupus in the 1970s and helped formulate the first diagnostic criteria for the disease.

Another world-renowned rheumatologist, John Mills, MD, wrote extensively on the clinical features of lupus and helped train generations of clinicians before his retirement in 2010.

Today, collaborations between investigators in our unit and scientists in the Center for Immunology and Inflammatory Diseases (CIID) are making progress in restoring the delicate balance of immune tolerance in lupus. We expect the findings will lead to safer, more effective treatments for the condition.

Highlights of current or recent research studies include:

  • Clinical director John Stone, MD, MPH, recently completed a study of a promising new "biologic" agent that targets specific components of the immune system that may trigger lupus
  • Shiv Pillai, MD, PhD and Kendra Taylor, PhD, have performed pioneering work in the genetics of lupus and other rheumatic diseases. Their work, a "bedside-to-bench" collaboration between Rheumatology Unit clinicians and basic scientists, was published recently in a major science journal, Nature
  • Division chief and CIID director Andrew Luster, MD, PhD, Terry Means, PhD, and Robert Friday, MD, PhD, are focused on understanding how the immune system discerns its host from the enemy (an identification process that breaks down in autoimmune diseases such as lupus) and how the innate immune system drives inflammation in lupus

Educating the Next Generation

As part of an elite teaching hospital, the Rheumatology Unit is committed to preparing the next generation of leading academic physicians, scientists and clinician-educators. Our fellowship program, affiliated with Harvard Medical School, entails intensive study of the clinical, diagnostic, therapeutic, pathogenic and research aspects of rheumatologic diseases. Internal medicine residents also gain exposure to lupus patients as part of their general training.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (Lupus)

Systemic lupus erythematosus, also known as SLE, or simply lupus, involves periodic episodes of inflammation of and damage to the joints, tendons, other connective tissues, and organs, including the heart, lungs, blood vessels, brain, kidneys and skin.

The following related clinical trials and research studies are currently seeking participants at Massachusetts General Hospital. Search for clinical trials and studies in another area of interest.

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