Lupus Trust research pushes through coronavirus pandemic

Updated: 04 Dec 2020

In 2019, the Lupus Trust was chosen to receive £85,000 over three years from the Society’s HA Andrews Memorial Fund. Sadly, we had to send this year's instalment in the post rather than present it in person, but the Trust’s research team were keen to update us on how their work was progressing despite 2020’s challenges.

Bekki Velounais and Professor Jo Spencer holding a large cheque

Bekki Velounias and Professor Jo Spencer with the second cheque from the Oddfellows

Lupus is described as a long-term auto-immune condition in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue and organs. It is estimated that five million people globally have the condition.

Oddfellows funding is being used to realise a project led by Professors Jo Spencer and David D’Cruz which looks specifically at the mechanisms underlying the loss of B-cell tolerance in lupus. In 2019, PhD student, Bekki Velounias, joined the team to help further the team’s progress.

Bekki has been a fantastic addition to the research team, and her commitment to pushing forward with work throughout lockdown has been commendable. Professor Jo Spencer

This year, the pandemic has hit lupus patients hard, with drug shortages and cancelled appointments, meaning that this research has never been more vital. The donation has meant that the team can continue to work throughout the pandemic, studying cells in the lab when safe to do so, and analysing huge data sets when it isn’t.

Reflecting on her first year, Bekki shared: “There have been many challenges but we’ve all been supporting each other to boost morale. There’s lots of work to get through, but knowing that it’s going to make a difference in the long-term is truly rewarding. I chose to research lupus because I have an aunt who lives with the condition, and seeing the effects first-hand really made me want to make a difference however I could.”

Moving forward

Professor Jo Spencer, whose team is supported by the Lupus Trust, said: “Bekki has been a fantastic addition to the research team, and her commitment to pushing forward with work throughout lockdown has been commendable. She used computational methods to make important progress when forced to work from home, and we’re delighted with how the research is progressing in the face of so many difficulties.”

The project will continue to move forwards with a combination of both approaches to study: lab based work when this is allowed and computational analysis when it isn’t.

There have been many challenges but we’ve all been supporting each other to boost morale. Bekki Velounias

Jane Nelson, CEO of the Oddfellows, said: “After a year of social restrictions, it’s a relief to hear that the valuable work of the research team hasn’t been suspended. We’re thrilled that they’ve been able to find different ways of progressing the research despite the challenges of the pandemic.”

The Lupus Trust is the most recent Oddfellows HA Andrews Memorial Fund beneficiary. Established in 1971, the Fund provides financial support over a three-year period to a project or organisation involved in, or conducting, medical research in the UK. So far £1,114,000 has been donated, with previous recipients being Alzheimer’s Society, the Stroke Association and the University of Bradford’s Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit.

In 2019, we visited the Lupus Trust's research laboratories, to learn more about lupus and to present our first instalment.

Oddfellows being given a tour of the Lupus laboratory

Professor Jo Spencer showing the Oddfellows around the Lupus Trust lab

The Oddfellows is one of the largest and oldest friendly societies in the UK, with 124 Branches across the UK. Its members come together to enjoy a wide variety of local social events and regularly fundraise for good causes both locally and nationwide.

To find out more about the many ways in which we give back to good causes across the UK, visit our Giving Back section, where you can discover more about the range and variety of projects we've supported over the years.