Mar 27, 2014 8:00 AM

Author: Office of Public Affairs

Many illnesses are easily cured with a visit to your doctor and a trip to the pharmacy. But a trio of baffling conditions has kept researchers hard at work for decades, investigating causes and cures.


What it is: According to the Lupus Foundation of America, lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that damages various parts of the body such as internal organs (the heart and kidneys), joints and skin, and causes extreme fatigue. People with lupus have immune systems that can’t distinguish between a body’s healthy tissue and bacteria, viruses and other invaders. The immune system creates autoantibodies that destroy normal tissue.

What we know: Every year more than 16,000 new cases of lupus are reported in the U.S.; nearly 1.5 million people in the country are estimated to have the disease. Women ages 15 to 44 are at most risk.

What we’re doing: Although lupus, along with other autoimmune diseases, is difficult to diagnose because it affects everyone differently, University of Utah Health’s Division of Rheumatology treats the spectrum of the disease’s symptoms. Read one young woman’s story.

Type 1 Diabetes

What it is: The American Diabetes Association defines type 1 diabetes as the body’s inability to produce insulin, a hormone that converts sugar and starch into energy.

What we know: Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in childhood and constitutes 5 percent of diabetes cases in the U.S. According to the American Diabetes Association, 25.8 million children and adults in the U.S. have diabetes. Of those, 7 million are undiagnosed. An additional 79 million are at risk for the disease. Diabetes can exacerbate a variety of medical issues: heart and kidney disease, stroke and high blood pressure, and can lead to blindness and amputation.

What we’re doing: The Utah Diabetes and Endocrinology Center, a collaboration between University of Utah Health and Primary Children’s Hospital, equips patients with tools to manage their disease through a variety of resources, including adult and pediatric diabetes clinics. The university also conducts ongoing clinical trials and studies. 

ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease)

What it is: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, compromising muscles throughout the body.

What we know: Symptoms begin with muscle weakness. Patients gradually lose the ability to control and move muscles. Swallowing, speaking and, eventually, breathing are affected. After a diagnosis, a patient usually lives an average of three to five years, but 20 percent of patients live five years or longer.

What we’re doing: University of Utah Health’s Muscular Dystrophy Association Clinic (sponsored by the Muscular Dystrophy Association) addresses 40 muscular disorders. In addition to a state-of-the-art EMG Laboratory to diagnose disorders of the muscles and nerves (EMG stands for electromyography), University of Utah Health’s services include the Neuromuscular Clinic, focusing on peripheral neuropathies, and providing access to the Motor Neuron Disease Clinic, which sees ALS patients. 

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