Not all the questions have answers yet, but the Center has fostered research that’s brought “a great deal of light” to possibilities, says Dr. Lockshin. Those conversations initiated by Barbara Volcker decades ago continue to inspire the Center’s overarching goals and serve its mission.
Explore this issueJanuary 2018
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“Her questions are the core of the Center that bears her name,” says Dr. Lockshin.
Several of its members hold leadership positions associated with the Center’s mission, according to Dr. Lockshin. For example, Dr. Erkan chairs both the Antiphospholipid Syndrome Alliance for Clinical Trials and International Networking, headquartered at the Center, and the 15th International Congress on Antiphospholipid Antibodies. Kyriakos Kirou, MD, conducts lupus nephritis clinical trials, and Dr. Sammaritano chairs the ACR Reproductive Health Guideline Project. With a background in environmental causes of autoimmune illnesses, Medha Barbhaiya, MD, MPH, is involved with the ACR. In addition, Dr. Lockshin served on committees with a focus on pregnancy, sex differences, and other aspects of autoimmune illness and he is past editor in chief of Arthritis & Rheumatism (now Arthritis & Rheumatology).
Fostering & Funding Research
Currently, the Center funds annual grants awarded to junior faculty at HSS and collaborating institutions within Weill Cornell Medical College. The only criterion is that they align with one of the mission areas of the Center, says Dr. Lockshin.
“We have things that have been as disparate as very basic science, such as … the way in which genes are activated, and others which are very social medicine-type things, like how people interact in their families, and so on.”
Grant recipient Dr. Olferiev and his colleagues experimented with RNA sequencing to investigate the expression of thousands of genes across health donors and patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). They identified hundreds of genes that affect males with SLE, although “many of those genes are well known and implicated in SLE pathogenesis of both genders, Dr. Olferiev said in an email.
“Our results might indicate that those transcripts represent a gene signature predisposing females to autoimmune conditions,” writes Dr. Olferiev. “What is the exact role of such genes? The answer to that question will require additional experiments, but it was clear that it can’t be explained by simple hormonal regulation.”
Funding from the Barbara Volcker Center helps support continued work on dissecting the mechanisms behind gender bias in autoimmune rheumatic disease, he says.
“I hope that my study will contribute to a better understanding of an autoimmune disease and possibly identify new therapeutic targets” says Dr. Olferiev.