Published: 2022-02-03 17:51 | Updated: 2022-02-03 17:51

Focus on Autoimmune Inflammatory System Diseases

Elisabeth Svenungsson.

Meet Elisabet Svenungsson, research group leader at the Division of Rheumatology, Department of Medicine, Solna.

In our research group, we conduct clinical research on the systemic, autoimmune inflammatory diseases systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), antiphospholipid syndrome (APS) and the group of vascular inflammations referred to as ANCA-associated vasculitis. We are about 20 employees in the group which consists of clinical researchers, postdocs, doctoral students, students, and research nurses.

Our main focus is clinical studies, which are often conducted as translational projects in collaboration with molecular immunologists, geneticists, epidemiologists and healthcare researchers.

We base a large part of our research on clinical data collected over a long period of time. Since the mid-1990s, we have through studies on large cohorts of very well-characterized patients, collected different types of blood and tissue samples and we have conducted thorough cross-sectional studies every ten years.

Examples of our research

Based on the presence of autoantibodies, we have recently demonstrated that the very heterogeneous SLE diagnosis harbors four subgroups that differ in terms of clinical symptoms, inflammatory patterns, age of disease onset and genetics. We are now performing further work to characterize these groups, as we believe that this view will facilitate future studies of SLE ethiology and treatment needs.

In our data collections we have studied certain organ manifestations in more detail. For example, we have collected kidney biopsies taken before and after treatment. These samples are crucial for our studies on kidney inflammation (nephritis) in SLE, and in recent years also in AAV and APS.

Through studies of kidney tissue and parallel samples taken from blood and urine, we hope to contribute by describing new biomarkers and methods that in the future will make it possible to diagnose and monitor treatments of nephritis without having to perform invasive kidney biopsies.To be able to give the right treatment to the right patient, we also follow the effect of and how the immune system responds to biological treatments at SLE.

Another research area is the enhanced risk of cardiovascular disease in patients with autoimmune systemic diseases, e.g. SLE and APS. Here, our studies have naturally been extended to include both causes of accelerated atherosclerosis and activated coagulation. Cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of shortened life expectancy in these patient groups and our goal is to identify risk factors at an early stage and provide preventive treatment.

We also investigate how our patients experience their disease and what consequences a long-term systemic inflammatory disease has for them. We want to understand and be better equipped to take care of the symptoms they often report as most bothersome, such as fatigue and pain. We also study the patients' need for information and how the information to different patient groups can be improved.

Research group members.
Back row from the left: Susanne Pettersson Aleksandra Antovic, Vilija Oke. Front row from the left: Agneta Zickert, Elisabet Svenungsson, Iva Gunnarsson Foto: Private.