Innovative Research Grant
Winthrop University Hospital
How will your research ultimately be used to change the lives of people with arthritis?
Persons with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are at substantially increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and suffering a heart attack. The goal of my research program is to predict which patients are most vulnerable to developing heart disease so that we can target appropriate preventive and treatment measures to improve the quantity and quality of life for these individuals. We are focusing on the specific inflammatory components present in the circulation of patients with autoimmune diseases that impair cholesterol metabolism and allow lipid accumulation in the artery where it can lead to obstruction and heart attack. One aspect of the work that holds particular promise for life-changing results is our finding that a naturally occurring substance in the blood known as adenosine has the ability to restore normal cholesterol metabolism even in the presence of inflammatory conditions. We are investigating adenosine and related compounds in order to understand how they accomplish this beneficial effect so that we can ultimately improve our medical treatment of cardiovascular disease in RA.
Do you have a personal connection with arthritis that makes the disease more than a statistic to you?
In my years of clinical practice, I’ve come across many people from all walks of life with this condition. They face considerable difficulty in maintaining a normal life while enduring chronic pain and stiffness. I am filled with admiration for their ability to nurture relationships, pursue careers and accomplish the activities of daily living, while remaining cheerful and optimistic. The ways in which people address the multiple challenges of arthritis is inspiring and admirable. The love and support of family members is often an essential motivating factor. At the same time, the focus on the relief of pain sometimes obscures the less visible but vitally important risk of heart disease. Having seen many friends, family members and patients deal with heart disease provides me with a compelling interest in addressing the problem.
What role do you feel the Arthritis Foundation plays in the progress of arthritis research?
I am so pleased to be able to answer this question because from my own personal experience I can say that the Arthritis Foundation plays a vital role in promoting innovative research and in bringing young people with fresh ideas into the field. Almost a decade ago, I received a Young Scholar Award from the Arthritis Foundation. At that time, we were just starting to appreciate the link between the immune system and cholesterol metabolism. There was a lot of skepticism about the importance of getting cholesterol out of the cell as a defense against atherosclerosis. The Arthritis Foundation was willing to take a chance and fund cutting edge research. They allowed me to develop the line of investigation that has brought me to the work I am doing today. It is interesting that the importance of cholesterol outflow in preventing heart disease and the effect of the immune system on this process is now widely recognized. In addition, the Arthritis Foundation funds Summer Student Fellowships that give young researchers at the undergraduate and graduate level a chance to work side-by-side with established scientists. I have been fortunate to mentor several of these nascent investigators and to help them appreciate the impact of bench-to-bedside research. I believe that these fellowships give the field of arthritis research an advantage in capturing some of our best and brightest future clinicians and scientists at a crucial decision-making phase in their careers.
What mysteries surrounding arthritis interest you most?
Even though we may think of RA as a joint disease, it affects multiple organs of the body, including the heart and blood vessels. RA has been linked to a heightened risk of atherosclerotic heart disease. While traditional and non-traditional cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, abnormal lipid profile, or corticosteroid use may exist in the RA population, these alone are insufficient to account for the increased atherosclerotic risk. The mystery I hope to solve is to discover the critical link between immune dysfunction and atherosclerosis. It would be not just interesting, but lifesaving to find and correct the abnormalities in the circulation of RA patients that lead to disturbance of the healthy equilibrium between uptake and outflow of cholesterol from the vessels that supply blood to the heart.
When you’re not in the lab or clinic, where can you most often be found?
I’m a wife and mother of two teenagers, so when I’m not working, I most enjoy spending time with my family. I usually prepare dinner when I get home from the hospital and then my husband and I are available to help with homework. We are starting to think about college applications for my sixteen year old son. I also love going to the movies and I enjoy watching crime dramas on television. I never miss an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.
What hobby do you most enjoy?
It’s tough to choose a favorite – I enjoy swimming, hiking, movies, traveling, shopping and Broadway musicals.
What non-medical book have you enjoyed lately?
I’m an avid reader of popular fiction. I just finished “The Keepsake” by Tess Gerritsen. She is a physician who writes medical thrillers. I also read everything by the author Nora Roberts. She writes romantic suspense fiction. I just finished her latest novel “Tribute”.
What is your favorite style of music and band or musician?
I have always loved Broadway show music, especially the works of Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber. My favorite performer of all is Barbra Streisand. Less than a week after my daughter was born in 1994, my husband managed to get me a ticket to see her live at Madison Square Garden. It was an experience I will never forget.
If you weren’t a medical researcher, what would you be doing now?
My thinking processes are very much devoted to the life sciences and I have always had a strong affinity for biology. If I were not a researcher I think that I would be a medical science writer or a medical or science fiction author. No other interest really comes close.