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Lupus LA Mourns Loss of Young Male Athlete to Lupus

LA Dodgers’ Prospect, Jonathan Figueroa, Was 26 Years Old

November 18, 2009—Jonathan Figueroa, who pitched in the Los Angeles minor league system from 2002 to 2007, died from complications of systemic lupus on Sunday in Tampa, Florida.

Jonathan Figueroa
Photo courtesy of Lincoln Saltdogs

“This is a tragic end to a vigorous life, brought to an untimely end by this relentless autoimmune disease that he bravely fought,” said the founder of Lupus LA, Daniel J. Wallace, MD, a clinical professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “Females are much more likely than males to get lupus—nine women for every one male is affected—but the illness that does develop in males tends to be particularly severe.”

“We send our deep condolences to Jonathan’s wife, Katitiana, and their 5-year-old son and 1-year old daughter,” Wallace said. A native of Venezuela, Figueroa was a gifted pitcher who played for Long Beach of the Golden Baseball League and most recently for Nebraska's “Lincoln Saltdogs” in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball league.

Searching for Answers

Lupus LA’s research partner, the Lupus Research Institute (LRI), is pursuing answers as to why young males such as Figueroa tend to develop such severe lupus.

At UCLA, Betty Tsao, PhD, has an LRI Novel Research Grant to investigate her breakthrough idea that certain X chromosome genes that already have been implicated in lupus are altered in males with the illness. Her findings may well aid in developing genetic tests for susceptibility to lupus.

And across the country at Temple University in Philadelphia, LRI grant recipient Roberto Caricchio, MD, is examining why the kidney inflammation of lupus nephritis tends to be particularly severe in males. He is pursuing clues based on the presence of a certain protein in serum, urine, and other human tissue taken from both males and females with lupus.

If successful, his findings will provide not only a better understanding of lupus kidney failure in males but could advance the use of inhibitors of the protein in question to generate a therapy for this complication. 

These and 83 other innovative LRI Novel Research Grants around the nation are rapidly transforming the field of lupus research and generating desperately needed answers and solutions for all those affected by the disease.

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