Lupus Foundation of America Announces 2019 Career Development Award Recipients

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by Alice Melão |

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In support of projects in several areas of lupus research, the Lupus Foundation of America has awarded four investigators — two more  than in prior years — with the Gary S. Gilkeson Career Development Award (CDA).

The award is meant for fellows and clinicians at the early stages of their research careers, providing mentorship as they shape their futures in lupus research. Due to disease complexity, recipients may be working in multiple areas, including rheumatology, nephrology, or dermatology.

This year, the awards were funded in part by the John & Marcia Goldman Foundation, which joined the LFA in supporting young scientists advance their lupus projects.

“The John & Marcia Goldman Foundation recognizes the importance of supporting young lupus physician scientists at their earliest career stages, when funding can be difficult to find and they are making important choices on their field of study,” Sophia Colamarino, PhD, director of the foundation’s science and health program, said in a press release. “The Lupus Foundation of America Career Development Award plays a big role in keeping the best and brightest in the lupus research field and paves the path forward for the next generation of lupus clinicians,” she said.

Every year, the CDA supports research projects in areas of critical need, which cover a variety of research topics in lupus. This year’s award recipients and their research projects are:

  • Erik Anderson, MD, from the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in New York, will be studying how interferon-alpha, a molecule that is highly produced in lupus, interferes with the breakdown process of a dietary amino acid and contributes to neurological problems in lupus, like depression and cognitive impairment. He also intends to identify possible disease biomarkers to prove the relationship between depression and cognitive problems with lupus activity;
  • May Choi, MD, from the University of Calgary, will be conducting the first and largest study evaluating how and why antinuclear antibodies (ANA) — a hallmark of lupus — change during the disease course, and which methods are better for detecting them. The study will include approximately 1,300 patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), followed over 10 years;
  • Emily Littlejohn, DO, MPH, from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, will be studying ANA changes over time, but using information from electronic health records retrieved with new methods to harness data. She also will explore how available treatments affect the levels of autoantibodies over time in SLE patients, seeking to understand when ANA testing should be ordered;
  • Emily Smitherman, MD, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, will be studying one of the largest groups of childhood SLE to assess how social factors, like race and socioeconomic status, affect the health and disease activity of children and adolescents with the condition.

“The Gary S. Gilkeson Career Development Award has played an important role in growing the field of lupus-focused researchers. All of our past CDA grantees continue to make an impact in lupus research and are advancing the knowledge of this complex disease,” said Karen H. Costenbader, MD, MPH, chair of the medical-scientific advisory council of the Lupus Foundation of America.

“The award not only provides the much needed funding that young scientists need to progress their careers, but it also offers critical mentorship, ensuring each scientist has the guidance needed throughout their research — further supporting their career aspirations,” she said.