The study, published online in the journal Clinical Immunology, was conducted on blood samples from 30 lupus patients -- 20 active cases and 10 in remission.
Researchers cultured the samples with low doses of peptides. Past studies conducted at Northwestern had shown that synthetic peptides blocked lupus in mice prone to the disease.
"This approach shows that the peptides have the potential to work like a vaccine in the human body, to boost the regulatory immune system of those with Lupus, fight autoimmune antibodies and keep the disease in remission," said senior author Syamal Datta.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease affecting younger women, causing the body to create antibodies that attack and destroy healthy tissue leading to inflammation, and pain and damage to vital organs. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, 5 million people worldwide have some form of lupus.
Steroids and Cytoxan are common therapies for Lupus, but even in small doses are toxic and can compromise fertility and the immune system. Because of the toxic nature of these therapies they cannot be administered over a long period of time.
"It is our hope that the next step is a phase one clinical trial in humans to show the efficacy of the peptide therapy in patients with lupus," Datta said.