2022 DEI Summit Speakers

Alisha Akinsete, MD 
Pediatric Rheumatology Health Equity Fellow
Hospital for Special Surgery

Alisha Akinsete, MD, is a Pediatric Rheumatology Health Equity Research Fellow at the Hospital for Special Surgery with a clinical focus on health care disparities in pediatric rheumatology. She completed her pediatric rheumatology training at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore and is board eligible. In 2016, Dr. Akinsete received her Doctor of Medicine at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, NJ. She also completed her residency training at Westchester Medical Center at the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital in 2019. While in medical school she learned the importance of a diverse work force for not only patients but also for medical training. She initiated and developed a new Diversity and Inclusion Program in her pediatric residency program. With success of the program, she was awarded the Program Director Award for her work in the Diversity and Inclusion Program. She is an active member of the American College of Rheumatology and the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force Subcommittee, CARRA Childhood Arthritis and Rheumatology Research Alliance (CARRA) Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee as well as the Health Equity Research work group in. She also wrote a chapter on pediatric rheumatology disparities. Dr. Akinsete is currently working publishing her work in implicit bias in juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). Dr. Akinsete is board certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and is a member of numerous professional societies, including the American College of Rheumatology, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Childhood Arthritis and Rheumatology Research Alliance.

Ashira D. Blazer, MD, MSCI
Assistant Attending Physician, Hospital for Special Surgery
Assistant Professor of Medicine, Weil Cornell Medical College

Dr. Ashira Blazer joined the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in 2022 as an Assistant Attending Physician and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Weil Cornell Medical College. She received her medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine and completed her residency at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She went on to complete rheumatology fellowship and a Master of Science at NYU School of Medicine, where she trained in the laboratories of Drs. Jill Buyon and Timothy Niewold. Dr. Blazer specializes in the treatment of all rheumatic diseases including undifferentiated connective tissue disease, Sjogren’s syndrome, inflammatory arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematous (SLE), particularly in patients of African ancestry. Considered a prototypic autoimmune disorder, SLE represents a phenotypically heterogeneous syndrome with multiple genetic, environmental, and immunologic causes. As a physician scientist, Dr. Blazer studies the interplay between genetic polymorphisms commonly found in African ancestry backgrounds, environmental and social stressors, and SLE pathogenesis. With increased prevalence of kidney, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension, SLE patients of African ancestry often experience higher disease severity and accelerated damage accrual. Dr. Blazer's work aims to understand contributing factors, and gain insights into personalized treatment options for this most vulnerable group of patients. Dr. Blazer's primary area of focus is in studying two cytokine-responsive genetic variants of apolipoprotein L1 (APOL1) gene, which have been linked to both atherosclerosis and renal disease in African ancestry populations. In SLE, chronic inflammation may be an important amplifying factor increasing the consequence of carrying one or more APOL1 variant. Her early work has identified that SLE patients who carry these variants have an increased risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, and overall organ damage accrual. In a truly translational approach, Dr. Blazer has utilized cell culture techniques to understand how SLE-relevant immune mediators, such as interferons, increase APOL1 expression and precipitate cytotoxicity. She has recently received grant funding to study the specific immune pathways that induce APOL1 gene expression in SLE.

Senior Vice President of Research Biology

Andrew C. Chan, MD, PhD, is Senior Vice President of Research Biology at Genentech, where he has overseen biological research in oncology, immunology, neuroscience, infectious diseases, and biotherapeutic discovery for the past decade. He is an accomplished leader in target discovery, drug discovery, and drug development. Dr. Chan’s laboratory focuses on how our immune systems protect us against foreign pathogens yet can cause autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. He has published over 100 research papers, review articles, and books. Dr. Chan is co-inventor of ocrelizumab (Ocrevus™), the first B-cell directed therapy approved by the FDA for treatment of both relapsing and progressive forms of multiple sclerosis. He plays key roles to bridge academia, patient advocacy, and industry. He presently serves as Chair of the Executive Advisory Board of the Chemistry Life Processes Institute (Northwestern University), member of the National Council at Washington University School of Medicine, and member of the Biopharma Advisory Board at Washington University. Dr. Chan has been a highly engaged and dedicated Arthritis Foundation volunteer for more than 20 years. He has been a strong advocate of the adult and pediatric fellowship programs at Stanford and UCSF through the San Francisco Chapter and expanded fellowship support throughout the Great West Region of the Arthritis Foundation. He then brought that expertise to help the National Home Office create a robust new fellowship program in 2017, which incorporated diversity, equity, and inclusion grants, starting in 2021. He has chaired the new fellowship program since its inception. He leads the annual Knowles Lecture, now in its 56th year, and is the Medical and Scientific Chair of the Local Leadership Board in the San Francisco area. Last year, he spearheaded the new Patient Education Webinar Series serving the Northern California region. He is the recipient of the Arthritis Foundation’s 2021 Howley Science Prize for his outstanding contributions to arthritis research and for everything he has done as an expert on the Arthritis Foundation Medical & Scientific Advisory Committee (MSAC), which he has served on since 2015.

Professor of Medicine Vice Chair for Education, Duke Department of Medicine
Associate Program Director, Duke Rheumatology Fellowship Program
Duke University School of Medicine

Dr. Criscione-Schreiber is a professor of Medicine in the Division of Rheumatology and Immunology at Duke University, where she serves as Vice Chair for Education in the Duke Department of Medicine. She attended medical school at Duke University followed by internship, residency, and rheumatology fellowship/Chief fellowship at Duke University. She received her Master of Education degree from the University of Cincinnati and is a mentor for the Duke Department of Medicine Faculty Development Academy for Education Scholars. She was Duke rheumatology training program director from 2008 -2022 and immediate past chair of the American College of Rheumatology curriculum subcommittee. Her primary research activities focus on improving the health outcomes for individuals with SLE along with patient and provider education regarding family planning for individuals with rheumatic diseases. Clinically her practice focuses on lupus and myositis.

Sharon Dowell, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology
Howard University Hospital

Dr. Sharon Dowell received her medical degree from the University of the West Indies. She completed her residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Connecticut and did her Rheumatology Fellowship at the University of Maryland. She is the current Course Director for the Introduction to Clinical Medicine course in the HUH College of Medicine. She is an Attending Rheumatologist at Howard University Hospital who provides expertise in general rheumatology, with special interest in patient education and health disparities, and her research work centers around increasing patient self-efficacy, health literacy and improving access to care for ethnic minority patients.

Candace Feldman, MD, MPH, ScD
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Division of Rheumatology, Inflammation, and Immunity
Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School

Candace Feldman, MD, MPH, ScD is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in the Division of Rheumatology, Inflammation, and Immunity. She received her MD from the Yale School of Medicine, her MPH from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and her Doctor of Science degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. She completed both her residency and fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Clinically, she is a practicing rheumatologist with a specific focus on the care of patients with lupus and systemic rheumatic conditions, as well as patients with complex medical and social needs. Her research focuses on racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic health disparities in rheumatic diseases and intervention design to reduce disparities in avoidable outcomes. She leads the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program for the BWH Division of Rheumatology and co-leads health equity initiatives for the BWH Department of Medicine. She has received the Mary Betty Stevens Young Investigator Prize by the Lupus Foundation of America and she serves on the Editorial Board of Arthritis Care & Research, is an Associate Editor for Lupus Science & Medicine, and serves and on the Medical and Scientific Advisory Board of the Lupus Foundation of America.

John FitzGerald, MD, PhD
Professor of Medicine
University of California at Los Angeles

John D. FitzGerald, MD, PhD research focuses on improving the care for patients with gout or other crystalline arthritis such as CPPD arthritis. He is the lead author for the American College of Rheumatology Gout Guidelines and American College of Rheumatology Gout Quality Improvement Measures. Working with the Gao lab at CalTech, Dr. FitzGerald is evaluating a skin patch sensor that will continually measure a patient's uric acid levels in their sweat reporting pre- and post-meal results back to their mobile phone. Working with the Ozcan lab, Dr. FitzGerald is developing new ways to identify gout (monosodium urate – MSU) and pseudogout (calcium pyrophosphate– CPP) crystals in synovial fluid. Dr. FitzGerald is studying the impact of gout on cholesterol and how that relationship impacts atherosclerosis. Dr. FitzGerald has studied the impact of Rheumatology physician supply on patient care, hospital surgical volume on patient outcomes, and patient quality of life after joint replacement surgery with a focus of these policies on disparities in healthcare. He has developed a shared decision-making intervention designed to reduce disparities in race and gender.

Mileka Gilbert, MD, PhD
Associate Professor, Pediatric Rheumatology Associate Program Director, Pediatric Residency Program Director of Diversity & Inclusion
Department of Pediatrics Medical Director, Diversity & Inclusion, Children's & Women's Hospital
Assistant Dean for Resident & Faculty Inclusion, College of Medicine, Medical University of South Carolina

Dr. Mileka Gilbert is Associate Professor and Pediatric Rheumatologist at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). She is originally from Maryland where she completed undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland Baltimore County in 2001. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2009 with MD and PhD degree in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. Her research focused on B cell tolerance mechanisms that prevent autoimmunity. She completed her training in general pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University Health System in 2012. She went on to complete fellowship training in pediatric rheumatology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. She joined the faculty in the Department of Pediatrics at MUSC in 2015. She is Assistant Dean for Resident and Faculty Inclusion in the College of Medicine and Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Department of Pediatrics. Additionally, she leads the Pediatric Rheumatology Care & Outcomes Improvement Network (PR-COIN) site at MUSC that works to improve outcomes of children with rheumatic diseases, participates in clinical research projects through the Childhood Arthritis & Rheumatology Research Alliance (CARRA), serves on the CARRA DEI Committee, the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) Pediatric Rheumatology Committee, and the ACR Diversity Committee, and is Co-Chair for the AMIGO mentoring program for pediatric rheumatology fellows in the US and Canada. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she has collaborated with other healthcare professionals to provide education about COVID-19, vaccines, and Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) due to COVID-19. She enjoys working with children and families to provide the best care for her patients. She likes to travel and loves sports, especially Tar Heel basketball.

Grant C. Hughes, MD
Associate Professor
University of Washington

Grant C. Hughes, MD is an Associate Professor of Rheumatology at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle, where he holds the Robert F. Willkens, M.D. – Lucile T. Henderson Endowed Professor in Rheumatology and serves as Adult Rheumatology Fellowship Program Director and head of rheumatology at Harborview Medical Center. He received his medical degree from Oregon Health and Science University and completed internal medicine, rheumatology, and post-doctoral research training at UW. His current areas of focus include equity, diversity and inclusion in rheumatology and medical education. Dr. Hughes serves on the Arthritis Foundation’s DEI Committee and Workforce Development Planning Group, the UW Department of Medicine Strategic Plan Workgroup for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; and he leads the UW Division of Rheumatology’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee.

Gail Kerr, MD, FRCP(Edin)
Chief, Rheumatology, DC VAMC and Howard University Hospital
Professor of Medicine, Georgetown and Howard University Hospitals

Dr. Gail Kerr received her medical degree from the University of the West Indies and did her Rheumatology Fellowship at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Georgetown University. She then joined the Washington, DC VAMC where she is Chief of Rheumatology. She is Professor of Medicine at both Georgetown and Howard University Hospitals, and Clinical Professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD. She has played a role in the formation of the VA Rheumatology Consortium, that brings together VA rheumatologists to improve care of Veterans, and that has led to the formation of chronic disease observational registries for rheumatoid arthritis, axial spondyloarthropathies and gout. Since 2004 she has been the Chief of Rheumatology at Howard University Hospital, and instituted rheumatology rotations for trainees to allow exposure to the specialty, and thereby increase diversity in the workforce. She is a Board Member of the Association of Women in Rheumatology that has developed Advocacy training modules for early trainees.

Olivia Kwan, MD
Pediatric Rheumatology Fellow
Indiana University School of Medicine

Dr. Olivia Kwan is a third-year pediatric rheumatology fellow at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, IN. She earned her medical degree and completed her residency training at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics where she also served as chief resident. She is both an Arthritis Foundation (AF) funded fellow, as well as the recipient of an AF diversity, equity, and inclusion grant related to her research. Dr. Kwan's current research is focusing on identifying barriers to care experienced by pediatric rheumatology patients and families and its impact on disease. She is pursuing a Master of Science in Clinical Research. Dr. Kwan also has a strong interest in medical education, as a volunteer instructor for first year medical students, as well as teaching residents and medical students during their rheumatology rotations.

Bryanna Mantilla, MD, PhD, MPH
Rheumatology Fellow
University of Washington

Bryanna Mantilla (they/them) is a fellow in rheumatology at the University of Washington. They completed internal medicine residency at George Washington University in Washington DC. They received an MD and PhD in Sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They also hold a MPH from Nova Southeastern University and a BA in Health Arts and Science from Goddard College. They are interested in bringing a sociological and structural critical lens to the practice of rheumatology. Their current research seeks to examine health inequalities for historically excluded and diverse patients living with axial spondyloarthritis, especially with regards to the role of racial-ethnic disparities and social determinants of health in delay to diagnosis and provision of advanced therapies.

Alfredo Rivadeneira, MD
Professor of Medicine
Medical Director, UNC Therapeutic Infusion Center

Dr. Rivadeneira is a graduate of the National University of Cordoba, Argentina, Medical School. He completed his residency training in Internal Medicine at the Danbury Hospital (affiliated with Yale University) in Connecticut and his rheumatology fellowship at UNC, Chapel Hill. His areas of interest include General Rheumatology and caring for Underserved Patient Populations. He is a clinician educator and enjoys working in the clinical setting with learners of different levels; from first-, second-, and fourth-year medical students to residents and fellows. He also runs the UNC adult Latino rheumatology clinic where he takes care of Latino individuals with rheumatic diseases and collaborates with clinical research and QI projects involving the Latino and other disadvantaged patient populations.

Martha Rodríguez, MD
Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics Associate Program Director, Pediatrics Residency Program, Indiana University School of Medicine Section of Pediatric Rheumatology

Martha Rodríguez is a Pediatric Rheumatologist at Riley Hospital for Children, Indiana University. She started her role as an assistant professor in clinical pediatrics at Indiana University after completing her fellowship training in Pediatric Rheumatology at the University of Chicago in 2017. Her clinical interests are Health disparities and mental health in youth with rheumatologic conditions. She is an active member of CARRA Mental Health workgroup, Health Equity Research Workgroup and Neuropsychiatric Lupus. She is also interested in medical education and recently started a new role as an associate program director of the Pediatrics Residency Program at Indiana University.

Will Ross, MD, MPH, keynote speaker
Principal Officer for Community Partnerships, Alumni Endowed Professor of Medicine
Division of Nephrology, Washington University School of Medicine

Will Ross, MD, MPH, is associate dean for diversity, principal officer for community partnerships, and alumni endowed professor of medicine in the Nephrology Division at Washington University School of Medicine. He has promoted health equity locally, nationally and globally through collaborations with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and public health officials in Ethiopia and Haiti. He is the founder of the Saturday Free Health Clinic and co-founder of Casa de Salud Latino Health Center. He is a co-founder of the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Center for Diversity and Cultural Competence and served on the task force that created the Washington University Institute for Public Health. Dr. Ross is board chair and founding member of the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience, a magnet health professions high school in St. Louis. He is a past member of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Health Disparities Committee, where he helped incorporate social determinants of health in Healthy People 2020. He is a founding associate editor of the public health journal, Frontiers in Public Health Education and Promotion. He served on the Group on Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee for the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), where he focused on strategic planning to advance faculty diversity and inclusion. Dr. Ross has numerous scientific publications. A graduate of Yale University, he completed medical school at Washington University School of Medicine, an Internal Medicine residency at Vanderbilt University, and a Renal Fellowship at Washington University. He completed a Master of Science in Epidemiology at the Saint Louis University School of Public Health.

Shakoora Sabree
MD/PhD Candidate
The University of Iowa

Shakoora Sabree is an MD/PhD candidate at the University of Iowa (class of 2023). She completed her Immunology PhD in October of 2021. For her thesis she studied the immunostimulatory effects of a novel cancer agent known as vidutolimod, a virus-like particle containing a TLR9 agonist. Through her thesis work she discovered similarities in the immune response induced by vidutolimod and that seen in autoimmune conditions. This in turn sparked her interest in the intersection of cancer immunotherapy and autoimmunity. As an aspiring physician-scientist, Shakoora has a special interest in developing culturally sensitive healthcare guidelines that provide high quality, comparable service to all patients, regardless of background or socio-economic status.

Benjamin J Smith, DMSc, PA-C, DFAAPA
Program Director, Associate Dean, Associate Professor
Florida State University College of Medicine School of Physician Assistant Practice

Benjamin J Smith, DMSc, PA-C, DFAAPA, is the Interim Program Director and Associate Dean at the Florida State University College of Medicine School of Physician Assistant Practice. Ben has practiced as a physician assistant in rheumatology for over 20 years. He is a past President of the Association of Rheumatology Professionals, a division of the American College of Rheumatology. He has presented on numerous rheumatology topics at the local, state, national and international level. Ben has published on a number of rheumatology clinical, educational and workforce topics.

Danny Soulsby, MD
Assistant Clinical Professor

Danny Soulsby, MD, received a BSHS in Physiology from the University of Arizona in 2012 followed by his medical degree (MD) from Saint Louis University in 2016. He then completed his residency in pediatrics followed by his fellowship in pediatric rheumatology at the University of California, San Francisco in 2019 and 2022. He is currently a pediatric rheumatologist at UCSF. His research interests are focused on health disparities and health equity in children with rheumatic diseases, including juvenile idiopathic arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus. He is the recipient of an Arthritis Foundation (AF) diversity, equity, and inclusion grant related to his research, and he was an AF-funded fellow.

Steven Taylor, MBA
President & Chief Executive Officer
Arthritis Foundation

A mission-first leader in the voluntary health space, Steve has over three decades of experience devoted to making life better for patients with life-altering diseases. Since joining the Arthritis Foundation in 2021, Steve has established the organization’s multi-year strategic mission plan, which outlines the Foundation’s clear pathways to finding a cure and improving quality of life for the nearly 60 million Americans diagnosed with arthritis. Steve is passionate about aligning the Foundation’s advocacy agenda and science strategy with the organization’s priorities, which are shaped by patient voices. Steve’s leadership is guided by the Foundation’s strong community of patients and volunteers — who are critical in driving the organization’s progress in audaciously attacking arthritis and its effects. Prior to being named President & CEO in 2022, Steve served as the Arthritis Foundation’s Executive Vice President, Mission & Strategic Initiatives for the past year. Previously, he served as President & CEO of the Sjögren’s Foundation for 18 years from 2003-2021. While there, Steve worked to make Sjögren’s a household name, increasing awareness among the general public and health care professionals. He also notably led the development of the first-ever Clinical Practices Guidelines for Sjögren’s, a resource to help physicians treat, manage and monitor their patients. Since childhood, Steve has been devoted to worthy causes, including the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s telethon and American Heart Association’s Jump Rope Heart program. He has also served in staff leadership positions at the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society and, in 2012 and again in 2019, served as volunteer chair of the National Health Council board of directors. Steve holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Boston University and an executive MBA from Auburn University. He is the proud father of three sons. “It is my greatest honor and joy to work alongside our volunteers and patients — who serve as my biggest inspiration,” says Steve. “That’s what is so powerful about being a part of a mission like ours. Their stories are what fuel us as we champion the fight against arthritis, together.”

Maria Vassileva, PhD
Senior Vice President, Scientific Strategy
Arthritis Foundation

Maria Vassileva, PhD, leads and directs all aspects of the scientific program at the Arthritis Foundation, including strategic planning, development and evaluation of all research programs. She collaborates with national and international scientific groups and serves as a leading voice nationally for arthritis scientific research. As SVP of scientific strategy, Dr. Vassileva ensures the Foundation’s role as a conceptual and programmatic leader in arthritis research and drug development. Dr. Vassileva earned her Bachelor of Science in biology and chemistry with a minor in mathematics, and she holds a Doctor of Philosophy in biochemistry and cellular biology from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, with a Vaccine Science and Policy Certificate. Prior to the Arthritis Foundation, she was director of clinical research at Navitas Clinical Research, a global contract research organization. She has also served at the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) as a senior scientific program manager and then director for strategic program development at Social & Scientific Systems. At FNIH, she oversaw a portfolio of complex clinical public-private partnerships, including the Accelerated Medicines Partnership in Type 2 Diabetes and all programs under the Biomarkers Consortium Metabolic Disorders Steering Committee umbrella, including musculoskeletal disorders and bone quality. She is an expert in biomedical public-private partnerships and multi-stakeholder collaborations and has been a project director on multiple government scientific contracts.

Stephen C. Wong, MD
Assistant Professor/Pediatric Rheumatologist
University of Washington/Seattle Children’s Hospital

Dr. Wong is an Asian-Canadian who obtained his medical degree at Eastern Virginia Medical School. He completed his pediatric residency at Loma Linda University and pediatric rheumatology fellowship at University of California, Los Angeles. He has been on staff as pediatric rheumatologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital since 2020 and heads the Inflammatory Brain Disorders Clinic. He also holds positions on the Arthritis Foundation Great West Medical Advisory Board and Arthritis Foundation DEI Science Summit Committee. In his spare time, he enjoys wildlife/nature photography, playing badminton and spending time with his wife and dog.

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