Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Dr. Susan Manzi: Unmasking The Great Impersonator

Lupus is one of 80 known autoimmune disorders, which affect the body's system of specialized cells and organs that defend against germs. Diagnosis is an art, not a science—with no single blood test available to make the diagnosis certain.



“We think of our patients as snowflakes,” says Dr. Susan Manzi. “No two are alike.”

Photo by Jim Judkis

(page 1 of 3)

When Curtis Nugent’s knees began to ache, the athletic 19-year-old shrugged: too much basketball, thought the freshman at Robert Morris University, assuming the joint pain would subside. He didn’t know it was the first shot in his body’s war with its immune system.

His organs began a seven-month free fall. His kidney function crashed, and he was rushed to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in April 2005. The diagnosis astonished his family: It was systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)—often referred to simply as lupus, an autoimmune disease that affects more than 1.5 million Americans.

Nugent had a highly unusual case of a complex disease within a little-understood field; more than 50 million Americans suffer from autoimmune diseases, including Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Lupus, in particular, presents itself in so many different ways—from heart problems to skin rashes and arthritis—making diagnosis difficult.

The disease is rare in men, who comprise only 10 percent of patients. It is far more common in young women, striking Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans in particular. Symptoms may subside and reoccur over decades, and there is no cure.

“Lupus affects a lot more people than people realize,” says Nugent, now a 24-year-old elementary school teacher in the Wilmington School District. “I was fortunate it was caught in time. I’ve heard other stories—people don’t catch it in time, then need transplants or dialysis. Lupus hides itself so well it looks like other diseases. It’s hard to diagnose.”

His early diagnosis came from Dr. Susan Manzi, one of a limited number of lupologists worldwide. To Manzi, chair of the Department of Medicine at West Penn Allegheny Health System and director of its Lupus Center of Excellence, the bewildering disease is not just a professional specialty—it’s a personal mission.
 

Patients Are 'Like Snowflakes'

Fifty-one-year-old Manzi chose her specialty shortly after graduation from the University of Pittsburgh Medical School while completing a residency in internal medicine at Duke University. “I’ve spent 23 years focused on this disease,” says the Wexford resident—first at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and for the past 14 months at West Penn Allegheny. “I couldn’t be more passionate.”

Lupus is often called “The Great Impersonator,” mimicking indicators of other illnesses. Diagnosis is an art, not a science—with no single blood test available to make the diagnosis certain. Treatment has relied on therapies borrowed from other diseases, such as chemotherapy and drugs used to prevent organ-transplant rejection. “We think of our patients as snowflakes,” says Manzi. “No two are alike.”

But Manzi and her colleagues are cheering the recent approval of the first new lupus drug to be developed since 1955. The team at the Allegheny Singer Research Institute, the research arm of West Penn Allegheny, helped design the trial for the new monoclonal antibody, dubbed Benlysta, in which her patients participated.

Benlysta suppresses a protein known as B-lymphocyte stimulator, or BLyS. Elevated levels of BLyS stimulate the body’s production of autoantibodies, which attack healthy tissues.

Manzi calls the resulting process “self-sabotage.” The research challenge, she says, is: “Why would that happen in an otherwise healthy 20-year-old and change her life? You have to know every aspect of medicine—brain, kidney, skin—to treat lupus. It’s a comprehensive disease that is best managed by a team of specialists.”
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Hungry for Something Good, Pittsburgh? Where We're Eating in July

Lidia Bastianich Shares Her American Dream in a New Memoir

PM Dining Critic Hal B. Klein talks to the celebrated chef, restauranteur, television host and author about grandparents, foraging and the plight of refugees seeking a better life in the United States.

They Prayed to Our Lady of the Roller Coaster

Two local priests –– riding the Phantom's Revenge to promote Catholic Day at Kennywood –– create a viral video. Along the way they deliver a most unusual sermon.

The Homestead Artist with a Worldwide Reputation

Jesse Best maintains a presence in New York and Tokyo. But, he says, Pittsburgh has been 10 times better to him than any other place.

The 400-Word Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The fifth "Jurassic Park" film is fun. Empty, somewhat disappointing fun.

Local Brewery Resolves Trademark Dispute With Sass

After Pitt ordered Voodoo Brewery to stop production of its "H2P American IPA," the company relaunched the beer under a new name.

Sprout Fund Passes the Torch

50 Pittsburghers to receive $1,000 Legacy Award to carry on the nonprofit’s vision.

Pirates Can Be Show Stoppers if They Follow Brault's Lead

A Broadway musical about the life and times of the Pittsburgh Pirates? The idea might not be as farfetched as you think.

Pirates Pitcher Steven Brault has Pretty Good Pipes Too

The Pirates reliever sang the national anthem Tuesday night before the Bucs hosted the Brewers at PNC Park. It's worth watching, especially for his teammates' reaction at the end.

Crime in the South Side Has Fallen Dramatically

Illegal activity plunged along East Carson Street following several new security measures.

Fired by City Paper — Charlie Deitch Won’t Be Silenced

The former editor of the Pittsburgh alt-weekly is creating his own "more inclusive" publication.

Czechoslovakia was Forged in Pittsburgh

Rick Sebak details how the establishment of the European nation began with a meeting Downtown.

Brick by Brick: Legos Go High Art

Made entirely out of Legos, the sculptures on the display at the Carnegie Science Center’s new Scaife Exhibit Gallery range from the whimsical to the otherworldly.

Mike Chen, Dean of the Chinese Kitchen

The owner of Everyday Noodles looks to encourage more regionally specific Chinese food in Pittsburgh restaurants.

MultiStories: Real Estate – The Machesney Building

Visitors can still ogle the lavish marble and bronze interior crafted to appeal to the original owner's banker and stockbroker tenants.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


They Prayed to Our Lady of the Roller Coaster

They Prayed to Our Lady of the Roller Coaster

Two local priests –– riding the Phantom's Revenge to promote Catholic Day at Kennywood –– create a viral video. Along the way they deliver a most unusual sermon.

Comments

Local Brewery Resolves Trademark Dispute With Sass

Local Brewery Resolves Trademark Dispute With Sass

After Pitt ordered Voodoo Brewery to stop production of its "H2P American IPA," the company relaunched the beer under a new name.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
What Anthony Bourdain Meant to Me

What Anthony Bourdain Meant to Me

Reflecting on the loss of a person so many of us admired.

Comments

Northeast Kitchen Brings Northeastern Chinese Cuisine to Pittsburgh

Northeast Kitchen Brings Northeastern Chinese Cuisine to Pittsburgh

Chef You Shan Pei comes to Pittsburgh after cooking in Flushing, N.Y. restaurants for 18 years.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Five Best Spots to Get Pittsburgh-Themed Merchandise

The Five Best Spots to Get Pittsburgh-Themed Merchandise

Looking to show off your Pittsburgh love? Get your favorite city printed on basically anything at these local shops.

Comments

7 Best Pittsburgh-Area Places You Should Try for Doughnuts

7 Best Pittsburgh-Area Places You Should Try for Doughnuts

When you're craving the real deal, these local spots consistently churn out the very best.

Comments


The Other Moving Documentary About a Curious Pittsburgher

The Other Moving Documentary About a Curious Pittsburgher

In "Will Work For Views," the video artist and musician Weird Paul is a little bit Dr. Demento and a little bit Mister Rogers.

Comments

Man, There's a Lot Going on at Zone 28

Man, There's a Lot Going on at Zone 28

The relaunched entertainment complex in Harmarville is casting a wide net, with some success.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pirates Can Be Show Stoppers if They Follow Brault's Lead

Pirates Can Be Show Stoppers if They Follow Brault's Lead

A Broadway musical about the life and times of the Pittsburgh Pirates? The idea might not be as farfetched as you think.

Comments

Olczyk Embraces Awareness, Understanding to Fight Cancer

Olczyk Embraces Awareness, Understanding to Fight Cancer

Olczyk found out last August, in the wake of a six-hour surgery that removed 14 inches of his colon and “a tumor the size of my fist,” the severity of what he was suddenly confronting.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The 400-Word Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The fifth "Jurassic Park" film is fun. Empty, somewhat disappointing fun.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Won't You Be My Neighbor?

The 400-Word Review: Won't You Be My Neighbor?

The documentary about Fred Rogers' work and philosophy inspires even more wonder about the television legend who called Pittsburgh home.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Toppers That Take the Cake

Toppers That Take the Cake

Over the traditional bride and groom standing on top of your cake? Try some of these different ideas for cake toppers.

Comments

Couple Shares Photo Spotlight With Four-Legged Friends

Couple Shares Photo Spotlight With Four-Legged Friends

This Pittsburgh couple is using their engagement photos to raise awareness about one of their most passionate causes.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
PPG Paints Unveils 2019 Color of the Year: Night Watch

PPG Paints Unveils 2019 Color of the Year: Night Watch

Paying homage to the restorative power of nature, this deep green shade is one to watch in the coming year. Here’s how to use it on your walls.

Comments

Five Pittsburgh-Based Etsy Shops You Need to Know About

Five Pittsburgh-Based Etsy Shops You Need to Know About

From furniture to wall art and beyond, these local makers created one-of-a-kind pieces for your home or office.

Comments