Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Scientists have pinpointed gut bacteria that may cause painful flareups in people with Lupus, and this discovery that could lead to finding a better treatment for the condition, a new study says.
Women in a study diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE, had five times the level of gut bacteria called ruminococcus gnavus than women without the disease, according to findings published on Tuesday in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases.
The researchers also say that tracking the microbiome could help in diagnosis, as well as tracking the disease and effectiveness of treatments.
"Our study strongly suggests that in some patients bacterial imbalances may be driving lupus and its associated disease flares," Gregg Silverman, an immunologist at NYU School of Medicine and study senior investigator, said in a news release.
Flares can cause skin rash, joint pain, and severe kidney dysfunction.
Among the study participants, high levels of ruminococcus gnavus were tied to immune proteins known as antibodies. The researchers found a correlation between high levels of antibodies and kidney flares in the lupus patients.
The National Institutes of Health estimate that about 1.5 million people in the United States are affected by lupus. But its cause is still unknown.
The researchers want to develop blood tests to show antibodies to leaked bacteria. They could then diagnose and track the disease's progress starting from the early stages.
Tests on the market now only show advanced stages of lupus and are often inaccurate, researchers say.
Current therapies treat lupus with immune-suppressing anticancer medications that soothe symptoms but can also harm the kidneys. This approach may also be hurting the body's immune system, making it harder to fight infections caused by lupus.
Now, the researchers want to possibly shift the focus of treatment the use of inexpensive probiotics or dietary regimens that suppress R. gnavus growth and prevent flares.
They also think fecal transplants from healthy people may be an alternative.
"Our results also point to leakages of bacteria from the gut as a possible immune system trigger of the disease, and suggest that the internal gut environment may, therefore, play a more critical role than genetics in renal flares of this all too often fatal disease," Silverman said.