Today we are bringing you the first in a series of new articles which will profile some of the researchers who receive grant funding from LUPUS UK and the important work they do to improve our understanding of the disease and develop new ways to manage it more effectively.
Dr Chris Wincup is a Senior Clinical Research Fellow at University College London (a LUPUS UK Centre of Excellence), where he has been a part of the team for two years. An initial grant of £58,881 was awarded by LUPUS UK in October 2016 with a further £7,008 in February 2018 to contribute to his research investigating the causes of fatigue in lupus.
Tell us a fun/interesting fact about yourself:
I used to work for Arsenal Football Club (although I support Norwich City!)
What are your hobbies:
Travelling, football, cycling and live music.
Please provide a brief overview of your research project:
My research centres on trying to find a cause for fatigue in patients with lupus. My initial results suggest that an abnormality in the way in which the body uses iron may lead to fatigue. My ongoing research is focusing on how a lack of available iron may result in reduced production of energy by specialist energy making cells called mitochondria.
We’ve looked at the commonly used measures of iron stores in the body (using a blood test to measure the levels of ferritin). In the vast majority of patients with lupus we found that this level was elevated. However this was more likely falsely raised as a result of the inflammation seen in lupus. As such it is not a good measure of how much iron someone has in their body when it comes to lupus.
What led you to choose this topic area for your study?
I was inspired to undertake research in this area after I attended a LUPUS UK Young Patient Support Group where many of those in attendance suggested that fatigue was a severe and debilitating symptom of the disease. Fatigue is also a challenging symptom for clinicians to treat as well as we have little in the way of medications that we can offer patients to reliably improve fatigue levels.
What do you hope/expect to find?
I hope that this study will help us to better understand this complex and troublesome symptom. At present the cause of fatigue is not well understood at all. If we are able to understand the cause then this may allow us to develop new treatments to help improve fatigue levels.
What potential impact could your research have for people living with lupus?
We know from previous studies that between 80-90% of patients report fatigue to be the single most troublesome symptom of their disease. We do not have a reliable medication for this symptom and so we really need to find a way of treating it. If we are able to gain a greater understanding of the causes, I hope that this may help us to find something that will improve fatigue.
What are the next steps after this project is complete?
One possible treatment that we are considering is the use of iron (given by a drip) as a potential therapy for fatigue. This is a freely available option that has been used safely in the past for the therapy of low iron levels. The results of this study may lead to a clinical trial testing the benefit of treatment with iron for fatigue.
We think that a state of functional iron deficiency occurs, in which even if you have adequate supplies of iron in stores in the body, it can’t be released because of the lupus. There have been suggestions in other diseases that giving an iron drip can bypass this and potentially help with fatigue. Therefore we are hopefully going to be able to open the study up to people with normal (or even high) levels of iron.
Following this project funded by LUPUS UK, Dr Wincup was recently awarded a Clinical Research Fellowship by Versus Arthritis (previously Arthritis Research UK) which will allow him to continue his work into fatigue in SLE and hopefully make some significant progress in this area. We will share any news we receive about his findings in due course.