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Stacey was never going to let lupus define her. Diagnosed at age 19, she lost her ability to walk several times before ending up in a wheelchair in March 2014 due to complications from the disease. But lupus – an autoimmune disease that can damage any organ in the body, including the skin, joints and internal organs – wasn’t going to keep her from accomplishing all that she wanted to do in her life.

Like Stacey, patients with autoimmune diseases endure a variety of challenges that affect their daily lives. When working correctly, the body’s immune system works to protect and defend the body from infections and diseases, but in the case of autoimmune diseases, a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s healthy cells, the same way it would attack bacteria or viruses.

More commonly known autoimmune diseases include lupus, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, scleroderma and psoriasis, but more than 80 different autoimmune diseases have been identified. In America today, more than 23.5 million people are affected by at least one autoimmune disease, and 75 percent of those affected are women.

However, there is hope for patients like Stacey as biopharmaceutical research companies work to research and develop new treatments for these diseases.  With 311 medicines in development for autoimmune diseases such as lupus, type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, patients have hope for new treatment options. 

Each disease presents different challenges for different patients, but autoimmune diseases tend to occur in members of the same family, which suggests that they may be genetic in nature. And while environmental factors like food, physical trauma or chemicals can trigger the onset of a disease, often times the cause of this reaction is unclear. In response to these difficult circumstances, scientists and researchers work tirelessly to understand the underlying biology of autoimmune diseases in order to develop new treatments and cures for these diseases. Clinical research is challenging, however, because patients with autoimmune diseases may have uncertain diagnoses or co-occurring diseases.

Even with the complexity of autoimmune diseases, innovations in science can allow patients to fulfill their dreams. Stacey’s story, in fact, shows that new medicines offer patients hope for a brighter future. In March 2016, despite not being able to walk, the 41-year-old set out to trek the estimated 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail. Her iron will, along with innovations in lupus treatment and care, are allowing her to tackle a journey through the mountains that many can only aspire to do.

If you ask her, Stacey will tell you that the worst day on the trail is far better than the best day in the hospital. But Stacey, like millions of other patients, refuses to let her disease control her life.

She will not stop hiking until she is finished in early 2017, thanks to her determination and strength of spirit on the Appalachian Trail, and America’s biopharmaceutical researchers will not stop in their quest to help America’s patients and families either.

Learn more here about how the biopharmaceutical industry is fighting disease.