Scientists in Trinity College have made a major discovery that could help treat autoimmune diseases that until now have been considered incurable.
Professor Luke O'Neill, along with other scientists from Trinity's School of Biochemistry and Immunology have made a breakthrough in understanding the progression of these inflammatory diseases in the body.
The research shows that an enzyme called Fumarate Hydratase is repressed in macrophages, a frontline inflammatory cell type implicated in a range of diseases including Lupus, Arthritis, Sepsis and even COVID-19.
Prof O'Neill specialises in inflammatory diseases - "diseases where your immune system for unknown reasons begins to beat up your own tissue".
Examples include Lupus, inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Speaking on his podcast Show Me The Science, Prof O'Neill explained: "Lupus is a strange one - nearly every organ can be attacked - and people with Lupus, they will have arthritis, they might have kidney inflammation and kidney damage, they get mouth ulcers they get fatigue very badly."
"There are some therapies that can help, but we need new treatments, and our work has uncovered something about what's going wrong in the body during Lupus."
The condition, which is nine times more common in women, is partly genetic so it can run in families, but this is "not definitive".
"You can have identical twins. One will get Lupus and the other won't."
Other causes of Lupus may be environmental but, as Prof O'Neill explains, one pollutant, trauma or injury has not been identified yet.
Due to medical advances, a Lupus diagnosis is no longer fatal.
Before the 1950s, those diagnosed were expected to be "dead within five years" ad the disease was "as lethal as cancer".
"Now, different story. Most people will live to a ripe old age, they'll go in and out of remission ... there are some drugs that slow it down", he said.
"Some of the symptoms are there but still that death toll has been lessened."
Prof O'Neill and his colleagues have been studying macrophages, a type of white blood cell which is overactive in Lupus.
"They chew up bacteria, they chew up viruses", he explained.
"We can get them to become irritated by in various ways. You can add things to them to activate them."
"What we saw was an enzyme in the macrophage called Fumarate Hydratase was suppressed."
The scientists took samples of Lupus patients and found FH was repressed in them.
"We could link that FH repression to the interferon production in the Lupus patients", he said.
"So suddenly we'd found a switch that gets flipped."
This was the first time the link between FH and Lupus has been made and it will now give way to more research into different possible treatments.
Main image shows Trinity Professor Luke O’Neill in the Newstalk studio. Image: Newstalk