MUSC Lupus Expert Recognized as American College of Rheumatology Master

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by Mary Chapman |

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MUSC lupus researcher

Lupus researcher Gary S. Gilkeson, MD, a distinguished professor in the Division of Rheumatology & Immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), has been given the Master’s Designation — the American College of Rheumatology’s highest honor.

Gilkeson, who is also MUSC’s associate dean for faculty affairs and faculty development in the College of Medicine, is one of just a handful of rheumatologists globally to receive the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) distinction this year. The award recognizes a lifetime of clinical and research contributions to the field of rheumatology.

“It’s very special and humbling to me to be selected for this award, given the thousands of rheumatologists there are in the world,” Gilkeson said in a press release. “To get recognition by our peers is something special that we all look for.”

The award was recently presented at ACR’s annual meeting in Chicago.

In addition to his field achievements, Gilkeson has been the main mentor for 10 National Institutes of Health K Award recipients. These awards provide support for senior post-doctoral fellows or faculty-level candidates.

In 2015, he also received the ACR Excellence in Investigative Mentoring Award. Additionally, the Lupus Foundation of America named its Career Development Award in his honor.

“People that I have trained are successful in the field now,” Gilkeson said. “I have been recognized for my mentoring of junior colleagues and investigators, and that has been the major achievement I am most proud of.”

In fact, his former mentee, Deanna Baker Frost, MD, PhD, an assistant professor in the same MUSC division, was awarded the ACR’s Distinguished Fellow Award. Gilkeson mentored Baker Frost as she finished her medical and doctoral degrees in rheumatology.

“It’s just crazy how all of it came full circle,” she said. “I did my PhD in his lab, and I worked with him in clinic. Prior to that I knew nothing about rheumatology at all. But I saw the relationship he had with his patients. I saw how much they loved him and cared about him, and how much he cared about them as well.”

A clinician-investigator who hopes to find better treatments for his and all lupus patients, Gilkeson has researched why women and African-Americans are more susceptible to the disorder. In studying the role of genetics and the environment in lupus in African-Americans, he has journeyed four times to Sierra Leone, West Africa.

He’s working alongside researcher Linyung Sun, PhD, of Nanjing University in China to look into mesenchymal stem cells as a lupus therapy. In a Phase 1 trial, the stem cell treatment was seen to benefit lupus patients. A Phase 2 study (NCT02633163) has opened in the United States and is still recruiting.

Baker Frost is also a clinician-researcher. The focus of her research is scleroderma, a chronic connective tissue autoimmune disease, particularly whether blocking estrogen decreases disease scarring. In addition, she’s a scholar in the KL2 program run by the MUSC South Carolina Clinical and Translational Institute, a program that helps clinicians pursue research goals.

“As I was coming to the end of fellowship, I thought this would be a program that would give me the necessary tools to move forward to becoming an independent investigator,” Baker Frost said.

Gilkeson and Baker Frost were nominated by Richard M. Silver, MD, a distinguished professor and recently retired chief of the MUSC Division of Rheumatology & Immunology.