Professor and Richard M. Silver Endowed Chair for Inflammation Research
Division of Rheumatology & Immunology
Dr. Betty Tsao’s laboratory is working on in the identification of genetic risk factors for disease manifestations of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus), with special emphasis on molecular and cellular mechanisms that connect risk genotypes to disease symptoms. SLE is a chronic, debilitating autoimmune disease that mainly affects women with features of autoantibody production, immune complex deposition, and multiple target organ damage. Consequently, SLE represents a significant public health burden in need of developing new therapies. Compared to the disease occurrence in the general population, relatives of lupus patients have higher risk for SLE due to shared genetic risk factors. As a founding member of the international SLE genetic consortium, Dr. Tsao has led and participated in large-scale lupus genetic studies using European, Asian, Hispanic and African-derived populations, localizing a growing number of genomic intervals that contain gene variants predisposing to SLE shared in multiple ethnic populations. The challenge now is to reveal the underlying risk variants and to understand how they perturb the immune system resulting in systemic autoimmunity and tissue injury. The biologic insights gained from these studies will reveal converging biological pathways for the disease pathogenesis that could be leveraged to guide the development and application of targeted therapeutics in the clinical care of patients with SLE. Laboratory members also study whether genetic assessment could identify high-risk SLE patients for accelerated organ damage and for consideration of vigorous therapy to prevent the development of end stage organ damage.