Research Update Spring 2012
Dr. Michael Stein, Vanderbilt University
For Dr. C. Michael Stein, the associate chief and fellowship director of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Division of Clinical Pharmacology, a career delving into the hidden causes of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and the havoc it wreaks upon its victims’ bodies wasn’t exactly what this recipient of a 2012 Innovative Research Grant had planned.
While working as a clinical pharmacologist in Zimbabwe in the 1980s, Dr. Stein fell into the role of rheumatologist when his boss – then the country’s only rheumatologist – left Zimbabwe to take another job. “When he left, I took over the care of many of his patients, and since then I have been trying to understand these diseases and the problems associated with them, and how we can improve care for patients,” says Stein.
Today, Dr. Stein’s research concentrates on the idea that the inflammation caused by RA produces subtle effects on the heart. “We believe these effects can be detected early, before any damage has occurred. If this is correct, we may be able to figure out ways to decrease the risk of heart failure in patients with RA.”
As he conducts his research, which may one day lead to personalized medicine, to reverse the inflammation process and prevent heart failure in RA patients, Dr. Stein sees his work as part of an intricate building. “Most successful research projects are solid and useful, but only interesting to a few people, a bit like a brick. Each research brick builds on the findings of others, and others in turn lay their bricks on top of yours to build the wall. But every now and then, while you are laying your bricks, you realize that you have built a window or a door rather than a piece of a wall. This provides a whole new view into a room that people really hadn't paid attention to before. In other words, every now and then research takes your breath away when you get to an insight that lets you see things in a different way.”
Dr. Stein credits the Arthritis Foundation with critical funding for much of the breathtaking work that might be deemed too “high risk” by the National Institutes of Health. “This willingness on the part of the Foundation to take some risks and support unusual ideas, and provide funding for the initial phases of such projects, has had a very important role in the development of many new areas of rheumatology research and in the development of the careers of many young researchers,” he says.
Stein, who enjoys reading to unwind, including titles ranging from the likes of Martin Amis to Henning Mankell’s “Kurt Wallender” detective series, says that although he knows little about either subject, he thinks he might enjoy a career in either human behavior or economics were he not a medical researcher. In ways that sound remarkably similar to medical research, Dr. Stein says he might enjoy “something that involved trying to understand cause-and-effect by looking at information and trying to find predictable patterns.”
Luckily, be it by pattern or the random chance of one doctor leaving his post and another stepping to fill his role, Dr. Stein is neither economist nor psychologist, but one of our 2012 IRG recipients, contributing to the Arthritis Foundation’s mission of transforming lives, one research brick at a time.
More From This Issue