Carol Artlett, PhD, Receives Arthritis Foundation, Scleroderma Federation/United Scleroderma Foundation Inc., Penn State's Finkelstein Awards
Are women who have been pregnant more vulnerable to certain autoimmune diseases such as scleroderma? For her study "Analysis and Characterization of Fetal Cells Found in the Lesions of Systemic Sclerosis Skin Biopsies," which seeks to answer this question, Carol Artlett, PhD, postdoctorial fellow, Department of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology, has received two grants and the prestigious Pennsylvania State University's Finkelstein Award.
Dr. Artlett's research team, composed of J. Bruce Smith, MD, Professor of Medicine and of Microbiology and Immunology, and Sergio A. Jimenez, MD, The Dorrance H. Hamilton Professor of Medicine and Director of the Division of Rheumatology, investigates the connection between scleroderma and fetal cells found in systemic sclerosis patients.
She explains that systemic sclerosis (SSc) or scleroderma (SD) is a disease with no known cause that affects predominantly females and occurs generally after child bearing years. It has many similarities to Graft-Versus-Host Disease (GVHD) which occurs in certain individuals following bone marrow transplantation and which appears to be caused by the immunologic attack of the cells in the grafted bone marrow against the tissues of the host.
Recently, it was discovered that fetal cells which pass from the fetus to the mother can survive in the maternal circulation for many years after the birth of the child. Dr. Artlett has identified the presence of fetal cells in the affected skin of patients with scleroderma and hypothesized that these cells are inducing a response similar to GVHD in these patients. Her research team proposes to identify and characterize the cells to gain a better understanding of the involvement that these fetal cells have in scleroderma and to test the hypothesis that GVHD induced by these fetal cells may cause scleroderma in some patients. It is her hope that this work will lead to novel therapeutic methods to target these foreign cells and to eventually cure the disease.
For this project, Dr. Artlett received a two-year Postdoctoral Fellowship Award, which is renewable for a third year, from the American College of Rheumatology Research and Education Foundation (REF) through a joint effort of the American College of Rheumatology's (ACR) Partner in Research Program. Administered through the Arthritis Foundation and restricted to Scleroderma research, her project has been jointly underwritten by an educational grant from the United Scleroderma Foundation, Mr. Larry Freeman of Freeman Cosmetic Corporation, and the ACR. The Fellowship Award carries a yearly stipend of $30,000.
In addition, for the same research project, Dr. Artlett was one of nine outstanding investigators nationwide to receive a scleroderma research grant, funded jointly by the Scleroderma Federation and the United Scleroderma Foundation, Inc. This award totalled $35,000.
The Finkelstein Award established in 1974 by The Pennsylvania State University's Milton S. Hershey Medical Center recognizes a researcher in training from among the Commonwealth's six medical schools for the most original work in a scientific paper. Dr. Artlett's 1997 award marks the second time a Jefferson researcher has received this statewide honor and $2,000 cash prize, granted for original work related to the general fields of immunologic and rheumatologic disease. Award criteria are originality, clinical importance, effort expended and clarity of presentation.