Profile in Research: PJ Utz, MD
Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, and Stanford University, San Francisco
Paul J. Utz, MD, has been awarded several grants from the Arthritis Foundation over the years. His most recent award is an Innovative Research Grant to study the development and perpetuation of the autoimmune reactions that define systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus). His team specifically will be determining the role that Type I interferon signaling pathways play in the development of B cells and T cells.
How do you think your research will impact your local community?
Our work includes large-scale analysis of blood from our patients with lupus. This involvement makes the participants feel as if they are part of the research team.
How would you ultimately like to see your research applied?
By uncovering the mechanisms behind autoimmunity and by identifying the molecular and chemical changes that can be effected, our research will help scientist select patients for clinical trials, or will help physicians select which drugs to use in the clinic. By defining which molecular interactions lead to disease, we will also identify new therapeutic targets that will lead to new drug development.
What are your impressions of the Arthritis Foundation?
Without the Foundation, there is no way I would still be in research. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget is too volatile to depend upon, and in the end we all have families to care for, first and foremost.
What role do you feel the Arthritis Foundation plays in the progress of arthritis research?
For the above reasons, the Foundation is the difference between success and failure. Foundation funding allows us to pursue risky projects, the preliminary data from which enables us to secure larger grants.
Given the prevalence of arthritis do you have a personal connection that makes the disease more than a statistic to you?
I have family members with vasculitis and OA, and many friends with RA. I’ve also made a new friend at Stanford who is on the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) and who has SLE.
What are the mysteries surrounding arthritis that interest you most?
I want to understand why people get arthritis at all, and why they have flares and periods of inactivity. These diseases are amongst the most fascinating of all diseases.
When you’re not in the lab, where can you most often be found?
Driving my kids to sports practices, at the beach, and especially on the golf course. Or more specifically, in or near the hazards or looking for lost balls in the trees.
What good, non-medical book have you read lately?
What’s your favorite music and artist?
It’s a tie between rock & roll and classical. I especially like The Beatles and bands with Steve Winwood; Rachmaninoff and Chopin.
If you weren’t a medical researcher, what would you be doing now?
I’d be a golf caddie or greenskeeper; fiction writer; zip line instructor -- or retired!