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Kathryn Wierenga

Kathryn Wierenga

2019 Gina M. Finzi Memorial Student Fellow

Michigan State University
Study Title: Unraveling How Omega-3 Fatty Acids Suppress Lupus Flaring
Mentor: James Pestka, Ph.D., Professor, Michigan State University

About the Researcher

Wierenga graduated with a bachelor’s in science and is currently a doctorate student in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology with a dual major in Environmental and Integrative Toxicological Sciences.

How will your Lupus Foundation of America Grant help advance your research career?

“Receiving this award was incredibly encouraging, as it reinforced that the work we are doing is important to understanding lupus pathogenesis. This grant gives me the opportunity to pursue a project that fits my interests and research goals perfectly: Using biochemistry and molecular biology techniques to understand how environmental factors and lifestyle decisions influence the development of disease.”

Summary from Wierenga’s Research Proposal

Consumption of omega-3 (ω-3) fatty acid rich fish oil has shown promise in prevention and treatment of lupus and other autoimmune diseases. ω-3s have anti-inflammatory effects and may therefore be applicable to a precision medicine approach in minimizing the rampant inflammation associated with lupus.

Because fatty acids consumed in the diet become part of the cell membranes of all the tissues in the body, consuming high levels of ω-3s acids increases their content in the cell membrane. This increase is directly correlated with a decrease in the membrane ω-6 fatty acids. Because high levels of ω-6s in the cell membranes have been associated with increased inflammation, altering ones diet to favor ω-3 may decrease inflammation.

To test this, our lab added DHA, an ω-3 found in fish oil, to in the diets of lupus-prone mice and found that this prevented the development of the disease in these animals. Importantly, my studies using cultured cells have found that DHA is capable of reducing inflammatory pathways in immune cells.

The goal of this proposal is to better understand the cellular mechanisms by which ω-3s prevent inflammation and ω-6s promote inflammation. Insights gained from this study will influence future preclinical and clinical research leading to personalized nutritional intervention strategies that may be used to prevent and combat lupus.



Learn more about research funded by the Lupus Foundation of America

For more information on Lupus Foundation on America’s granted research, please contact Ashley Marion at