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2019 Gary S. Gilkeson Career Development Award (CDA) Recipients

The Lupus Foundation of America awarded four individuals to receive the 2019 Gary S. Gilkeson Career Development Award (CDA).

The Career Development Award was designed for fellows and clinicians with the goal of supporting early career scientists and providing mentorship during a critical time in their lupus research career.

Thanks to the John & Marcia Goldman Foundation, who funded part of the award for 2019, LFA was able to fund double the amount of awardees and funding from any previous year!

2019 CDA Awardees

Emily Littlejohn, DO, MPH

Cleveland Clinic
Mentors: Emily Somers, Ph.D, ScM & Jinoos Yazdany, MD, MPH
Study: Longitudinal Antinuclear Antibodies titers from pre-clinical to clinical SLE

The diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is complex and requires a specific combination of patient symptoms with support of lupus markers in the blood. Of these markers, the antinuclear antibody (ANA) test is widely recognized as a hallmark of lupus although patterns of change over time and their implications have not been well studied.

Using data from Electronic Health Records (EHR), Littlejohn will examine how ANA changes in people with lupus over the course of their disease. Littlejohn’s research will take advantage of new methods to harness data from EHR in order to create the infrastructure to study lupus and in particular provide novel insight about ANAs over time. She will also explore if the use of a common drug for SLE, hydroxychloroquine, affects autoantibody changes over time. The findings from this proposal will address a gap in knowledge about ANA trajectories over time, and provide data to guide decision making related to ANA ordering.

Emily Smitherman, MD

University of Alabama at Birmingham
Mentor: Aimee Hersh, MD, MS
Study: Evaluating Disease Activity Outcomes in Childhood-Onset Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Children with systemic lupus erythematosus (cSLE) have more severe disease and worse long-term outcomes compared to adults. Past studies show that long-term outcomes vary based on race and socioeconomic status, but little is known about how to predict the effect on short-term outcomes.

Utilizing prospective data from the Childhood Arthritis and Rheumatic Disease Research Alliance (CARRA) Registry, Smitherman will answer questions about the social determinants of health in cSLE and their effect on disease activity. Smitherman’s study will be one of the first to analyze one of the largest cSLE cohorts collected to date. The goal is to produce a risk assessment of high disease activity that could then be validated for use in clinical care.

May Choi, MD, FRCPC

May Choi, MD, FRCPC

University of Calgary
Mentor: Karen Costenbader, MD, MPH
Study: LEAAPPS: Longitudinal Examination of ANA Associations, Prevalence, and Performance in SLE

A blood test called the anti-nuclear antibody (ANA) is considered important in helping healthcare providers make an accurate diagnosis of SLE. New research indicates that there is a wide variation in the performance of ANA testing methods. It is also thought that the ANA may go from positive to negative, or vice versa, during the disease course, but this, along with the factors associated with these changes, has not been well studied.

Choi’s study, called LEAAPPS: Longitudinal Examination of ANA Associations, Prevalence, and Performance in SLE, will be the first and largest study of its kind, testing blood samples and utilizing patient information from 1300 SLE patients at the time of diagnosis and at 3, 5 and 10 years after diagnosis. She will test these samples for ANA using four methods and determine which method can yield a true positive result the most often. The study will determine which factors, including the patient’s personal and disease information, are related to each ANA trajectory. This study also gives a unique opportunity to look at other lupus blood tests called antibodies, which are proteins in the blood, many of which have never been tested before in a large lupus population over the long-term. The results will provide evidence-based guidance for healthcare providers and researchers on how to better study and monitor SLE patients in the future.

Erik Anderson, MD

Feinstein Institute for Medical Research
Mentor: Meggan Mackay, MD, MS
Study: Tryptophan Pathway Activation by Interferon-alpha: Impact on Mood and Cognition in SLE

Depression and memory and concentration problems, called cognitive dysfunction, are common in lupus. Tryptophan is a dietary protein that may affect depression and cognition in lupus. Tryptophan breakdown is stimulated by interferon alpha (IFNα), a protein that is increased in lupus. The result is increased quinolinic acid (QA) that damages neurons, and decreased kynurenic acid (KA) that protects neurons. Anderson’s study will explore whether high IFNα and a QA/KA imbalance contribute to depression and cognitive problems in lupus.

Anderson’s study of the QA/KA imbalance and IFNα will determine their relationship to depression and cognitive problems in lupus. The blood tests and brain imaging may provide markers that can be used to prove that depression and/or cognitive problems are related directly to active lupus. They will also highlight the tryptophan pathway and IFNα as potential treatment targets.