Developing new therapies for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

  • Senior Research Officer & Lab Manager
    Catherine Kennedy, PhD

    +61 3 8344 0886 (lab), +61 3 9035 9806 (office)

Project Details

Professor Mackay's laboratory has an interest in autoimmune diseases and mechanisms leading to loss of immune tolerance, in particular that of B-lymphocytes. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is a debilitating autoimmune disease driven by aberrant B cells producing antibodies against self. This leads to inflammation and ultimately tissue destruction. Today we have no cure for SLE and the current treatments are symptom-focussed. Attempts to treat lupus by targeting B cells come at the high price of immunosuppression and opportunistic infections. Therefore, a more targeted approach is needed.

Our lab has shown that the molecules BAFF and its receptor TACI play a vital role in autoimmune diseases. Excess BAFF leads to autoimmunity in mice and is also associated with human autoimmunity, in particular Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) and Sj√∂gren's syndrome. We have demonstrated that TACI-mediated production of autoantibodies is key to drive BAFF-mediated autoimmunity and that loss of TACI  on B cells protects from the disease without compromising B cell adaptive immunity in general. We are currently developing strategies targeting TACI to provide a therapy with a higher safety profile that avoids the serious adverse effects of global B cell depletion.

Concurrently, we also investigate the effects of dietary changes on the development and treatment of autoimmune conditions like SLE as we have recently found that a high fibre diet has the potential to reverse disease and reduce pre-established auto-antibodies. Using various approaches we investigate how changes in metabolites and gut microbiota lead to the re-programming of immune responses in the SLE model.

Key contact

Please direct all enquiries to the Senior Research Officer and Lab Manager Catherine Kennedy, PhD. instead of Professor Fabienne Mackay.

Lab: +61 3 8344 0886

Office: +61 3 9035 9806



Prof Fabienne Mackay (lab head)

Dr Catherine Kennedy (lab manager)

Dr Simona Infantino

Dr William Figgett

Dr Pin Shie Quah

Mrs Angela Vitali

Ms Eden Whitlock (research support officer)

Ms Florence Lim (PhD student)

Mr Bowen Zhang (Masters student)

Ms Yiqiao Chen (Masters student, shared with Tony Velkov’s lab)

Ms Elif Gungor (Honours student)


NHMRC Grant: Molecular and cellular basis of inflammatory and immunodeficiency diseases - 2012-2016

NHMRC Development Grant: Development of a safer new treatment for systemic lupus erythematosus that preserves B cell immunity - 2016-2019

Research Publications

  • Mackay F, Schneider P. Cracking the BAFF code. Nat Rev Immunol 2009; 9: 491-502
  • Fairfax KA, Tsantikos E, Figgett WA, Vincent FB, Quah PS, LePage M, Hibbs ML, Mackay F. BAFF-driven autoimmunity requires CD19 expression. J Autoimmun 2015; Aug 62: 1-10.
  • Figgett WA, Deliyanti D, Fairfax KA, Quah PS, Wilkinson-Berka JL, Mackay F. Deleting the BAFF receptor TACI protects against systemic lupus erythematosus without extensive reduction of B cell numbers. J Autoimmun 2015; Jul 61: 9-16.
  • Figgett WA, Vincent FB, Saulep-Easton D, Mackay F. Roles of ligands from the TNF superfamily in B cell development, function, and regulation. Semin Immunol 2014;  Jun 26(3): 191-202.

Research Group

Mackay (F) laboratory: B lymphocytes, BAFF, autoimmunity and cancer

Faculty Research Themes

Infection and Immunology

School Research Themes

Molecular Mechanisms of Disease, Therapeutics & Translation

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact the research group leader.

Department / Centre

Microbiology and Immunology

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