Skip to main content
Emily Smitherman, M.D.

Emily Smitherman, M.D.

2019 Career Development Awardee

University of Alabama at Birmingham
Evaluating Disease Activity Outcomes in Childhood-Onset Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
Mentor: Aimee Hersh, M.D., M.S.

About the Researcher

Emily Smitherman is committed to pursuing an academic career in research, and the number and breadth of her past research experiences support this goal. Smitherman’s interest in an academic career in research began during her undergraduate program in psychology with exposure to experimental psychology, research design, and intermediate-level statistics coursework. She was integrally involved in a research lab that was funded by a multi-disciplinary National Institutes of Health Research Project Grant Program (R01) grant to investigate determinants of human longevity and healthy aging. In addition to her role in this study, she also contributed significantly to additional studies of cognitive processing in healthy older adults and was involved as an author on multiple publications. Moreover, she successfully completed an independent, undergraduate honors thesis within the area of cognitive psychology to study working memory and visual attention and designed an experiment to test the influence of domain-specific expertise.
In medical school, Smitherman became involved in more clinical and community-based research experiences. She was the primary student investigator on a cross-sectional analysis of a prospective cohort of pediatric traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients to determine imaging predictors of short-term TBI outcomes. This activity eventually led to a first author publication in Journal of Neurotrauma, a moderately high impact journal. Much of Smitherman’s medical school career was spent engaged in leadership opportunities within multiple service organizations. From these, she grew an interest in community-based participatory research in order to evaluate the impact of our work in the community and earned a certificate in community medicine. She was part of a team that developed a community-based childhood obesity intervention in Dallas with a predominantly Spanish-speaking population, and she was also a leader for a student initiative that hosted an annual health fair in a similar community. It was also in medical school that Smitherman was first exposed to the challenges for children with chronic conditions, which was a significant driver for her to pursue residency training in pediatrics.

Project Summary

Disparities in long-term outcomes, including damage and mortality, based on race and socioeconomic status, have been established in childhood-onset systemic lupus erythematosus (cSLE). However, little is known about the predictors for high disease activity and how to mitigate their effects. The hypothesis of this study is that disparities in social determinants of health will be observed at both the patient-level and community-level and that these disparities will be associated with short-term disease activity. Specific Aim 1 will model patient-level clinical and socioeconomic predictors of short-term disease activity in cSLE patients, utilizing data from the Childhood Arthritis and Rheumatic Disease Research Alliance (CARRA) Registry. Specific Aim 2 will evaluate the association between community-level geocoded variables based on patient zip codes in the CARRA Registry and short-term disease activity outcomes. Community variables to reflect area deprivation, rurality, food environment, and medical underservice will be developed based on U.S. Census Bureau tracts. The approach will utilize advanced regression modeling techniques to measure the strength of association of each predictive variable and develop a predictive model. This study will be one of the first to utilize the prospective data available through the CARRA Registry and analyze one of the largest cSLE cohorts collected to date. The proposed aims will result in direction application to clinical care and inform development of a cSLE learning health system.

Meet the Researcher


Learn more about research funded by the Lupus Foundation of America

For more information on Lupus Foundation on America’s granted research, please contact Ashley Marion at