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What is lupus?

The immune system is made up of different parts that help fight off invading germs, such as viruses and bacteria. One of the ways the immune system does this is to make proteins called antibodies that attack these invaders. If someone has lupus, something goes wrong, and their immune system makes antibodies that attack the healthy cells in their body. Because of this, lupus is called an autoimmune disease (or a self-immune disease). There is currently no known cause or cure for lupus.

Lupus causes inflammation that can damage different parts of the body (e.g. the skin, joints, kidneys, and heart). This can lead to a wide range of symptoms, including painful joints, extreme tiredness, cognitive issues, and physical impairments, which may come and go, and different symptoms may appear at different times.

In the United States, it is estimated that at least 1.5 million Americans have a form of lupus. Globally, it is believed that 5 million people have a form of lupus. Lupus mostly affects women of childbearing age (15–44 years of age), but men, children, and teens can also develop lupus. There is also a link between race and lupus, e.g. people of African, Asian, Hispanic/Latino, and Native American descent have a higher chance of developing lupus.

Types of lupus

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): the most common form of lupus (nearly three-quarters of cases). “Systemic” refers to the fact that different parts of the body are affected, including the skin, joints, and various organs in the body, such as the kidneys and the heart.
  • Cutaneous lupus: a less common form of lupus. “Cutaneous” refers to the fact that only the skin is affected.
  • Drug-induced lupus: lupus symptoms can be caused by taking certain prescription drugs. These symptoms usually stop within a few months of stopping these medications.
  • Childhood lupus: a form of lupus that occurs in children. It affects the body the same way as adult lupus.
  • Neonatal lupus: a form of lupus that affects some infants if their mothers have lupus. At birth, affected infants may have some symptoms, such as a skin rash or liver problems, but the symptoms will usually stop after 6 months.

Advances in lupus treatment

There are hundreds of potential medications in development for autoimmune diseases. Continued medical research on lupus may help us find out more about the causes of this condition and ultimately find cures for people with lupus. 

You can get involved

There are opportunities for people with lupus and healthy volunteers to contribute to lupus clinical research, and potentially change the future treatment of this life-limiting condition.


The resources below provide further information on lupus and advice on taking part in clinical research.

For Potential Participants

New treatments are on the horizon for lupus patients

From biologics to CAR-T, developments in clinical research for SLE have opened new treatment doors for patients.


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