Seeds for Stellar Change

Chemists have identified a family of compounds that may someday help prevent kidney damage from lupus, a common autoimmune disorder that afflicts up to 2 million Americans.

One of the disorder's main complications, kidney damage, appears to stem from antibodies that latch onto a patient's own DNA. Normally the kidneys filter damaged DNA from the blood, and in lupus patients the misguided antibodies trigger inflammation when they bind to the DNA that collects in the kidneys.

Gary Glick of the University of Michigan and Jonathan Ellman of the University of California, Berkeley, looked for a decoy that would mimic DNA and bind to the troublesome antibodies. They created more than 1600 versions of a promising group of compounds called the 1,4-Benzodiazepines, and identified those that locked onto antibodies from mice with lupus. ``It's sort of like playing the lottery where you're buying every ticket,'' Glick says. ``If you play the statistics large enough, you're bound to win.'' Glick and Ellman report their findings in the current issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The chairperson of the medical council of the Lupus Foundation of America, Evelyn Hess of the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, greets the finding with caution. It's ``an interesting test-tube mechanism,'' she says, that now must be tested in animals.

That's precisely Glick's next step. His team is now testing the most promising derivative in lupus-prone mice to see if it actually prevents kidney damage. Such a treatment in humans, Glick says, might have fewer side effects than the immune-suppression drugs currently used to treat the condition.