Jul. 01, 2014

Emory University Doctoral Student among a New Generation of Lupus Researchers Enlisted in the Fight

Lupus Foundation of America Announces Its 2014 National Lupus Research Program Summer Fellowships and Career Development Award

(July 1, 2014; Washington, DC) – Laura Plantinga, a doctoral student in epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, has been awarded a fellowship from the Lupus Foundation of America, the only national force dedicated to solving the cruel mystery of lupus.  Plantinga is among the 2014 recipients of the Gina M. Finzi Memorial Student Summer Fellowship, which seeks to develop the next generation of lupus scientific thought leaders by fostering an interest in lupus research careers.

This one-of-its-kind fellowship program was established more than 25 years ago by former Lupus Foundation of America President, the late Dr. Sergio Finzi, in memory of his daughter Gina, who passed away from lupus. The program seeks to cultivate an interest in lupus research among young scientists by funding basic, clinical, translational, epidemiological and behavioral lupus research studies, conducted under the supervision of an established investigator. Plantinga’s research study, entitled End-stage Renal Disease Incidence Among Newly Diagnosed SLE Patients, will be mentored by Dr. S. Sam Lim, Associate Professor of Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, and Chief of Service for Rheumatology at Grady Memorial Hospital.

“The Lupus Foundation of America is thrilled to welcome this year’s award recipients into its National Research Program to stimulate their interest in helping to solve this unpredictable and misunderstood disease,” explains Graciela S. Alarcón, M.D., M.P.H., Emeritus Jane Knight Lowe Chair of Medicine, University of Alabama, Birmingham and Member of the Lupus Foundation of America’s Medical-Scientific Advisory Council. “Our hope is that the efforts of these young scientists will advance our understanding of lupus and lead to the next breakthrough in lupus research.”

In addition to Plantinga, five other young scientists, chosen through a rigorous review process, were awarded fellowships to pursue research efforts in lupus. Their studies will focus on important topics, such as the influence of genetics on the manifestation of lupus, the relationship between platelets bearing complement activation product C4d (PC4d) and cardiovascular disease, lupus nephritis, B-cells  and the roles of the MAVS-inhibitory protein NLRX1, retinaldehyde and adipogenesis in lupus.

The 2014 recipients include:

  • Milena Gianfrancesco, University of California (Berkeley), Berkeley, CA
    Mentor: Lindsey Criswell, M.D., M.P.H.
  • Project title: Causal Inference Approach to Study Disease Activity in Lupus

  • Jennifer Mall, Allegheny-Singer Research Institute, Pittsburgh, PA
    Mentor: Joseph Ahearn, M.D.
    Project Title: CVD Risk Factors and Events in the Pittsburgh Lupus Cohort Over 20 Years
  • Laura Plantinga, Emory University, Atlanta, GA
    Mentor: S. Sam Lim, M.D., M.P.H.
    Project title: End-stage Renal Disease Incidence Among Newly Diagnosed SLE Patients
  • Priti Prasad, University of California (Los Angeles), Los Angeles, CA
    Mentor: Ram Raj Singh, M.D.
    Project Title: Analysis of Innate B cells in a Model of Chemically-induced Pulmonary Lupus
  • Daniel Shu, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    Mentor: Philip L. Cohen, M.D.
    Project Title: Expression of MAVS-inhibitory Protein NLRX1 in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
  • Shi Su, Boston University, Boston, MA
    Mentor: Tamar Aprahamian, Ph.D.
    Project Title: The Role of Retinaldehyde and Adipogenesis in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

    These young scientists join the ranks of more than 200 Finzi Student Fellows that the Foundation has supported since the program’s inception. The partnership between student and established investigator is an important component of this unique program. Recipients of this valued fellowship have produced numerous papers that have been published in respected peer-reviewed journals, earned M.D. and Ph.D. degrees, and become medical practitioners and academic researchers.

    Career Development Award

    In addition to announcing the recipients of student fellowships, the Lupus Foundation of America also announced the 2014 recipient of the Foundation’s Career Development Award. Laura Lewandowski, M.D., Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, received the award to support her lupus research project entitled, PULSE: Pediatric Update on Lupus in South Africa: Epidemiology & Management.  Dr. Lewandowski’s research will be mentored by Laura E. Schanberg, M.D., a pediatric rheumatology specialist with Duke Medicine. 

    Now in its second year, the Foundation’s Career Development Award supports the field of lupus research at a time when public and private funding opportunities are increasingly more challenging to secure, and when individuals in the early part of their careers must make critical decisions about their future paths. The Foundation created this award to facilitate the professional development of rheumatology, nephrology and dermatology fellows who are interested in careers as clinician-scientists at institutions that have a research program with a substantial focus on lupus. The award supports the work of these fellows as they transition from training to independent careers.

    More information about the Lupus Foundation of America’s National Research Program is available online at lupus.org/research.

    About Lupus
    Lupus is an unpredictable and misunderstood autoimmune disease that ravages different parts of the body.  It is difficult to diagnose, hard to live with and a challenge to treat.  Lupus is a cruel mystery because it is hidden from view and undefined, has a range of symptoms, strikes without warning, and has no known cause and no known cure.  Its health effects can range from a skin rash to a heart attack.  Lupus is debilitating and destructive and can be fatal, yet research on lupus remains underfunded relative to diseases of similar scope and devastation. 

    About the Lupus Foundation of America
    The Lupus Foundation of America is the only national force devoted to solving the mystery of lupus, one of the world’s cruelest, most unpredictable and devastating diseases, while giving caring support to those who suffer from its brutal impact. Through a comprehensive program of research, education, and advocacy, the Foundation leads the fight to improve the quality of life for all people affected by lupus.

    About the Lupus Foundation of America Peer Reviewed Research Program
    The Lupus Foundation of America is dedicated to addressing scientific issues that have obstructed basic, clinical, epidemiological, behavioral and translational lupus research for decades. Our research grant program focuses its support in areas of research where significant gaps in scientific knowledge about lupus exist, and where other public and private organizations are not focusing their efforts. The program supports growth in the field during a time when federal government funding opportunities are limited. Through our peer reviewed lupus research program, the Foundation directly funds lupus investigators to conduct studies in areas identified by our Medical-Scientific Advisory Council (MSAC).