A fifth study done by the Scripps Institute, which appeared in the Jan. 18 issue of Immunity, took an entirely different approach, focusing instead on a genetic mutation that reduces one's risk of developing lupus, Rose added.
Lupus can affect the skin, joints, lungs, blood and other organs, and lead to cardiovascular, kidney and arthritic problems, according to the Lupus Foundation of America. Women are much more likely to be struck by lupus than men, and black women are more vulnerable than white women to developing the disease.
The role that a family history of the disease plays has been known for some time, noted Dr. Robert Kimberly, principal investigator for SLEGEN. A sibling of a person with lupus has a 20 to 30 times greater likelihood of developing the condition.
Experts also say environmental factors might jumpstart the disease.
This latest research "represents an acceleration of discovery," Kimberly said. "It's not just encouraging. It has us all quite excited about what we might be able to accomplish."
For more information on lupus, go to the National Institutes of Health.
SOURCES: Noel Rose, M.D., director, Johns Hopkins Center for Autoimmune Disease Research, Baltimore; Susan Manzi, M.D., co-director, Lupus Center for Excellence, University of Pittsburgh; Carl Langefeld, M.D., co-director, International Consortium for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Genetics (SLEGEN), and director, Center for Public Health Genomics, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C.; Robert Kimberly, principal investigator, SLEGEN, professor, medicine, Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology, and senior associate dean, research, University of Alabama, Birmingham; Jan. 20, 2008, Nature Genetics online; Jan. 20, 2008, New England Journal of Medicine online; Jan. 18, 2008, Immunity