In 1991, Swiss-trained rheumatologist and rehabilitation specialist, Gerold Stucki, MD, MS, wrote to top U.S. rheumatologists Lynn Gerber, MD, then at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md.; Robert L. Swezey, MD, then at the University of California at Los Angeles; and George Ehrlich, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, to explain that he wanted to better understand patients’ functioning and disability in relationship to their condition. He asked each person to recommend a mentor. “I got back three lists,” Dr. Stucki recalls, “and at the top of each list was one name: Matt Liang.”
Those familiar with the career of Matthew H. Liang, MD, MPH, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, Boston; professor of health policy and management at Harvard School of Public Health; director of special projects at Robert B. Brigham Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases Clinical Research Center; study director of the VA Cooperative Studies Program, at the Massachusetts Veterans Epidemiology Research and Information Center; and Molson Foundation Scholar at the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada in Vancouver, British Columbia, would not have been surprised by this unanimous endorsement. “Matt has built an investigative career evaluating how we can improve the experience of the patient, from the standpoint of direct intervention and evaluation of the outcome,” observes his lifelong mentor Halsted R. Holman, MD, the Guggenhime professor of medicine, emeritus at Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, Calif.
Over 50 clinician-researchers from the United States and seven different countries in disciplines from rheumatology to orthopedics to epidemiology have trained at the Robert B. Brigham Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases Clinical Research Center founded by Dr. Liang at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. For 25 years, the center was the only continuously funded of the NIH-supported multipurpose arthritis centers.
A Rising Tide Raises All Ships
The beginnings of the center were modest. Recruited to Harvard in 1977 by H. Richard Nesson, MD, K. Frank Austen, MD, and Eugene Braunwald, MD, to start a clinical research program in rheumatology and to be a founding faculty member in general medicine and primary care, Dr. Liang recalls that his group was housed at the ‘Old Robert,’ as the Robert B. Brigham “Hospital for the Incurables” was affectionately called. They worked in the basement, with snow blowing through the windows in the wintertime. Funding was also modest: in its first three years, the center received $45,000 shared with Massachusetts General Hospital and $13,000 a year from the Massachusetts Arthritis Foundation.
When I get really engaged, I can almost ‘see and feel’ the steps needed to find a solution—and then I have to find the voice to bring others along.
—Matthew H. Liang, MD, MPH