Professor Christian Hedrich is an Honorary Consultant Paediatric Rheumatologist at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital (a LUPUS UK Centre of Excellence). In May 2018 he was awarded a grant of £52,528 by LUPUS UK towards the cost of a 12-month study investigating the genetic factors behind juvenile-onset systemic lupus erythematosus.
Tell us a fun/interesting fact about yourself:
Whenever I’ve moved to a new place in the past, one of the big local sports teams won the national championship… It’s about time for Liverpool FC.
What are your hobbies:
My wife and I have just moved into a 120-year-old house, so home improvement is fast becoming hobby #1 whether we like it or not! When I eventually emerge from the local hardware store, you might find me on my bike, off in a corner sketching something largely indiscernible, or at the local pub exploring the glorious world of British beer.
Please provide a brief overview of your research project:
My research focuses on understanding how people develop autoimmune and autoinflammatory diseases, with a particular interest in lupus. In the past, it was often assumed that diseases had the same causes in both children and adults, but we now know that this is not always the case. Sometimes, what we might call the same disease regardless of age may be the result of quite different processes and even require different treatment. This project will look into suspected genetic differences in the development of juvenile- and adult-onset systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). We have three specific goals for the type of knowledge this research study will provide us with:
1. To determine the occurrence of gene mutations and/or variants in juvenile-onset SLE.
2. To determine the influence of genetic risk on age at onset, and/or the involvement of organ systems, treatment responses, disease severity and outcomes.
3. To compare this information with data from adult studies to identify shared and unique genetic factors to juvenile-onset SLE vs. adult-onset SLE.
What led you to choose this topic area for your study?
Early on in my paediatrics training, I was drawn to the clinical and therapeutic complexity of SLE; the challenges that patients face every day, as well as the fact that most (if not all) available treatments are of limited efficacy while causing significant side-effects. With the invaluable support of my clinical and scientific mentors over the years, I’ve developed the experience and skill set to investigate the genetic factors involved in lupus. As a paediatrician and researcher, I can see that children and young adults don’t just get the “mini-version” of adult disease, but often develop illnesses which look similar while having different causes. In the case of lupus, genetic differences may be responsible for early disease onset, more severe disease, higher need for immune suppression, and less favourable outcomes. Only in understanding these differences can we become better at diagnosing, treating, and improving quality of life for young people with lupus.
What do you hope/expect to find?
We hope to improve our understanding of genetic contributors to juvenile-onset SLE and their potential association with specific organ involvement, treatment responses, and/or outcomes.
What potential impact could your research have for people living with lupus?
Ultimately, our goal is always to improve treatment and quality of life for patients. The knowledge we hope to gain from this research could help us to make earlier and more reliable diagnoses and predictions of disease activity, as well as to develop better treatments that are more effective, with less toxicity and fewer side effects. Blocking proteins that cause inflammation and contribute to organ damage is one example for potential future individualised and target-directed treatment options in lupus.
What are the next steps after this project is complete?
The project should help to establish a basis to move forward with the development of new tools for early and reliable diagnosis and the development of new treatments. We will continue to work with our international collaborators to test our findings for predictive value in juvenile-onset SLE, as well as to determine whether genetic markers can be used as guides for individualised and target-directed treatments in SLE. The next steps after that would be to design clinical trials to test new target-directed treatments based on the presence or absence of certain genetic factors in patients.
We’re very excited to see the findings from Professor Hedrich’s research study and we will share these with you after the results have been published.