Being diagnosed with lupus can be scary. The condition not only can cause pain and discomfort, but it can also be life-threatening if you don’t receive the right treatment. Currently, treatment includes medications that help you manage symptoms, along with the adoption of healthy lifestyle changes.

Lupus is an autoimmune disorder, which causes the immune system to attack healthy tissues in your body, like the skin, joints, and organs. Your immune system is designed to protect your body by fighting off foreign pathogens, like viruses and bacteria. But when you have lupus, it can’t tell the difference between good and bad, so it attacks things that it isn’t supposed to. This is dangerous when it comes to your vital organs like the heart, lungs, and kidneys.

The condition is chronic, meaning it lasts for a long time and doesn’t go away once you’re diagnosed. However, people with lupus will often go through periods where symptoms aren’t as bad.

According to the Lupus Foundation of America, about 1.5 million Americans have lupus. With this many people affected, it’s important for us to work towards better, more effective treatment solutions and eventually a cure. Here is some of the most promising research that’s moved us closer to that goal in 2015.

1. There’s now better risk assessment during pregnancy.

In a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, researchers discovered that biomarkers (substances in the body that predict illness) found in women’s blood during early pregnancy could predict whether a mother with lupus was at risk for complications. Being able to rule out certain complications over others will allow for better prenatal care in mothers with lupus.

Learn More: 10 Early Signs of Lupus

2. Bacterial biofilms may play a role in lupus, research finds.

For years, the scientific community has been unsure of the reasons why conditions like lupus and multiple sclerosis (MS) misdirect the immune system to attack one’s own body. Now, a team at Temple University School of Medicine (TUSM) may have gotten closer to finding an answer. The researchers discovered that bacterial biofilms (groups of bacteria) found in the gut might be partly responsible for why lupus develops. The results are still too early for us to fully celebrate, and the study involved mice rather than humans, but it shows a promising beginning to understanding these disorders better.

3. There’s a possible link between lupus, antidepressants, and heart disease.

People with autoimmune disorders like lupus are often warned about potential heart complications. New research published in the American Heart Association Journal, Circulation, discovered that the antibodies called anti-SSA/Ro antibodies contribute to an abnormal heart rhythm in people with lupus and other related diseases. Medications like antihistamines or antidepressant drugs can also cause this abnormal rhythm on their own. The findings together indicate that people with these conditions who take those medications may be at a higher risk for heart complications.

4. Pregnancy with lupus is not as risky as once believed.

Women who have lupus and want to get pregnant may not have to worry as much as experts once thought. Before, women were told to avoid pregnancy because of the risks it might cause with the disorder. However, new research shows that women who are experiencing very mild symptoms may also be at a lower risk of pregnancy complications. The study is particularly important because it helps identify certain factors in women that can predict how high risk a pregnancy will be with lupus.

5. Lupus antibodies could fight cancer.

Researchers from the Yale Cancer Center and the Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System may have found a way to use lupus cells that attack the healthy body tissue and turn them against cancer cells. It was known before that lupus cells naturally attack cancer cells anyway, in addition to healthy cells, but scientists didn’t know they could actually make these cells work for them. This could potentially be great news for cancer treatment in the future.

6. Safer medications are on the way.

A team of Monash University researchers may have discovered a way to get treatments to focus only on B cells, the white blood cells that attack healthy tissue, instead of destroying the entire immune system. By isolating the three proteins used by these cells, the team was able to stop the process that creates the cells that attack healthy tissue. This development could lead to the creation of much safer medications.

Going Forward

Each study gives us further insight into how lupus works, and how we can develop a cure. As technology advances, researchers are able to build on past studies, and get closer to more effective treatments (and hopefully a cure) for lupus.