Portrait in Research: James Jarvis, MD
James Jarvis, MD, of the Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City, OK, currently has an Innovative Research Grant to study clues to the causes of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis that may lie in the innate immune system. We asked him some questions about his work and his life.
How do you think your research will impact your local community?
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) is one of the most common chronic diseases in children. Therefore, any research that identifies unsuspected disease mechanisms has the potential to change the lives of many children. JRA disproportionately affects Native American children, so this research has the potential to impact a community to which I am emotionally and professionally committed.
How would you ultimately like to see your research applied?
Through most of my career, basic research into the causes of JRA focused on the adaptive immune system, that is, the part of the immune system that requires prior exposure to a germ or virus to function well. In contrast, we believe that critical clues to JRA lie in the innate immune system, the part of the immune system that’s ready to go without prior exposure to infectious agents. The success of the new biologic therapies targeting proteins of the innate immune system supports this point of view. It seems reasonable to hope that our work will identify other new, important targets of treatment. Beyond that, gene expression technologies carry tremendous potential to transform our ability to predict responses to therapy, identify true disease remissions, and predict imminent disease flares.
What are the mysteries surrounding arthritis that interest you most?
There are two areas where even my friends will tell you that I’m a bit of a zealot. One is the disproportionate number of Native Americans who suffer from rheumatoid disease, systemic lupus, inflammatory muscle disease and illnesses that appear to overlap all of those. I want to understand what genetic, social, environmental and historical factors are responsible for that critical health disparity. The second issue is the critical scientific issue of the current grant: the role of the innate immune system in chronic arthritis in children. Unraveling the mysteries of how innate and adaptive immunity intersect in the disease process is one of the most fascinating mysteries of chronic arthritis in children.
What role do you feel the Arthritis Foundation plays in the progress of arthritis research?
The AF is the lynchpin for arthritis funding in this country. Many times in my career, young or even senior investigators have commented to me that their Arthritis Foundation funding was the only thing keeping their research moving forward between gaps in funding from the National Institutes of Health.
Do you have a personal connection that makes arthritis more than a statistic to you?
My older sister was diagnosed with systemic lupus when she was 19 years old.
When you’re not in the lab, where can you most often be found?
Traveling in “Indian Country.” When I’m not traveling, I’m usually at home reading or playing guitar.
What is the favorite non-medical book you read last?
Gosh…so many. I’m reading Milton’s Paradise Lost for a class I’m teaching at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral here in Oklahoma City. It’s wonderfully modern and I wonder why it’s not part of the “literate person’s canon” anymore. I just finished Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals about Lincoln. I’ve reread both “Huck Finn” and The Odyssey within the last year and found them once again profoundly fresh and exciting. I’m reading Shelby Foote’s Civil War history for the third time now and had forgotten how good the writing is.
What is your favorite music and artist?
Hmmm…That’s like the book question. I don’t have a favorite “music.” I love Mozart. I’ve been listening to Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion.” I love Schubert. I’ve loved every version of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and, of course, John Coltrane. As a guitarist, I love Kenny Burrell. I’ve never outgrown my love of the Beatles (especially John Lennon); and Little Richard, Buddy Holly and Carl Perkins are heavily represented in the repertoire of my rock band. Still, through all that, I must say that my “favorite music,” would be whatever my diva daughter, Katherine, is singing at any time.