The history of lupus begins in 1828 when the French dermatologist, Biett described the disease. For the next 45 years, studies of the disease showed nothing more than descriptions that emphasized skin changes. In the mid 1800’s, Pierre Cazenave was the first person to have a comprehensive description of lupus. The disease was named because of a wolf-bite shaped rash (the butterfly rash) that appears across the nose and cheeks of many lupus patients. “Lupus” is the Latin word for wolf.
In 1873, a dermatologist named Kaposi noted that people with a history of lupus lesions also experienced problems in internal organs. Then in the 1890’s, a famous American physician, Sir William Osler, discovered that some patients had internal organ involvement but no history of lupus skin problems at all. In 1948, a finding by Dr. Malcolm Hargraves of the Mayo Clinic that showed that patients with SLE had a LE cell in their blood, allowed doctors to develop a simple blood test. This blood test, along with a medical history and family history of lupus was used to diagnose many more cases of lupus. In the 1950’s, scientists discovered antinuclear antibodies (proteins that cause the immune system to attack its own tissues) which lead to the development of more sensitive tests for SLE. Studies using mice (murine models) in the last 40 years have also increased our understanding of the disease.
Now, after decades of little action, things are happening. The community is seeing unprecedented interest from biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies that translates into dozens of companies interested in lupus and even more trials for lupus patients. As few as seven or eight years ago, there were just two to three trials in progress. Today there are 12 to 15.