As a trainee ACR member, Dr. Giles received information about the ACR Research and Education Foundation (REF) Clinical Investigator Fellowship Award, a program designed for young rheumatologists interested in building careers in clinical research. He applied for and received the award in late 2004.
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“I can’t tell you how much better I slept at night knowing that I had secured funding for two years.,” says Dr. Giles. “I was able to stay at Johns Hopkins as a faculty member and continue my research, mentored by Dr. Bathon.”
With his REF funding, Dr. Giles began a study focusing on the relationship between body composition and accelerated cardiovascular disease in RA, related to his work with Dr. Bathon. Dr. Giles’ study is one of the first to evaluate fat mass and muscle mass as separate components of overall body composition in patients with RA, and where fat mass is distributed in the body in connection with RA disease outcomes, such as disability and subclinical cardiovascular disease.
Data from this study have produced some interesting findings. The greater an RA patient’s fat mass, the more severe the disability was. Further, of patients with high fat mass, the most severely disabled were those whose fat mass was heavily concentrated in the limbs. Study findings also indicated that a concentration of fat around the body’s middle section may increase cardiovascular disease risk.
One of the most interesting results of Dr. Giles’ study is what he learned about the effect of fat mass on C-reactive protein (CRP) levels in women. His results suggested that high body fat may be a major contributor to elevated CRP levels in women, perhaps even more than RA disease activity in some cases. The same did not hold true in male patients.
Dr. Giles is excited about his findings and their implications for patients. “It will be valuable for patients to understand how their body composition can affect their RA symptoms and severity, as well as predict their risk for cardiovascular disease,” he says.
Dr. Giles is glad that he seized the opportunity during his rheumatology rotation at Vanderbilt University—it led him to the ACR REF Clinical Investigator Fellowship Award which has opened many new opportunities, including pursuing a Masters of Public Health degree and securing a NIH/NIAMS-funded K23 award to continue his clinical research.
“Truthfully, I would not have been so successful in securing a K23 without my REF funding. The award really was the perfect opportunity for me at that stage in my career. It was tailored to the young investigator, and other potential funding sources have taken notice of the fact that I received REF funding as a young investigator,” reflects Dr. Giles. “Most importantly, REF funding helped make the transition from rheumatology fellow to rheumatology researcher smoother. And, it will continue to open new doors for me.”