Interestingly, her course of study in pathology linked her with Chief of Surgical Pathology Joseph Corson, MD, who for 30 years had collected autopsy specimens from patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). “In my spare time I went through all those autopsy slides,” she recalls. This resulted in her identification of rheumatoid aortitis as a clinically significant entity. This work was done in collaboration with another important mentor and close colleague in rheumatology, former ACR President Michael Weinblatt, MD.1
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Dr. Gravallese joined the Harvard Medical School faculty as an instructor, and by 2003 she was an associate professor of medicine. The work in her laboratory continued apace. Seminal work published in 1998 was the first milestone in understanding the structural damage that occurs in RA. Her initial observation, in collaboration with Steven Goldring, showed definitively the presence of osteoclasts at the pannus-bone interface in joints of RA patients.2 A follow-on study from her group showed the critical link between receptor activator of nuclear factor kappa-Β ligand (RANKL), osteoclastogenesis and bone erosion by inducing inflammatory arthritis in RANKL knockout mice, and demonstrating the mice were protected from articular bone loss.3
Since 2006 Dr. Gravallese has been a professor of medicine at UMass, attaining tenure in 2012. The following year she was named the Myles J. McDonough Chair in Rheumatology. In her laboratory, she has continued to focus on mechanisms of bone erosion and inhibition of bone repair.4 Her recently published clinical trial in RA, done in collaboration with Dan Solomon and Jonathan Kay, assessed the efficacy of intermittent parathyroid hormone therapy to promote healing of articular erosions.5 Current work in her laboratory seeks to understand the innate immune mechanisms that contribute to the onset, progression, persistence and regulation of systemic autoimmune disease.6
Dr. Gravallese’s myriad accomplishments include national and international visiting professorships, service on the Boards of Directors of the ACR and the Bone and Joint Decade, among other organizations, and an active role in administration and training of fellows at Harvard and UMass. She was elected to the Henry Kunkel Society, and in 2017, the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research honored her with the Stephen Krane Award for her research. The Arthritis Foundation has also honored Dr. Gravallese with the Marian Ropes Physician Achievement Award.
From 2012–13, Dr. Gravallese completed a fellowship with the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM), a national program designed to prepare senior women faculty to move into positions of institutional leadership. She says that experience was invaluable in providing a better understanding of organizational structure and finance.