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Mary Kirkland Center for Lupus Research

2007-2010 Kirkland Scholars

George C. Tsokos, MD
Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Chief, Rheumatology Division, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Dr. Tsokos received his medical degree and a doctorate in sciences from the University of Athens. He trained in internal medicine at the University of Athens and Georgetown University/VA Medical Center in Washington DC and completed immunology and rheumatology fellowships at the National Institutes of Health. Between 1987 and 2007, he was a member of the Uniformed Services/Walter Reed community, where he served in various positions, including vice chair for research in the Department of Medicine and chief of the Department of Cell Injury. In 2007, he joined the Beth Israel Medical Center as chief of their Rheumatology Department and became a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

He has served as president of the Clinical Immunology Society and as a member of multiple study sections and medical journal editorial boards. Currently he serves as consulting editor for the Journal of Clinical Investigation and associate editor-in-chief of Clinical Immunology, amongst others. He has been elected to the Association of American Physicians and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences.

Dr. Tsokos’ research focuses on the cellular and molecular pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). His laboratory has opened and led the field of molecular abnormalities on immune cells in patients with the disease. There are two central needs to improve the care of patients with SLE: better markers to diagnose the disease and follow the activity of the disease, and therapeutic targets that will be specific for the disease. He has been a leader in the field of deciphering the molecular aberrations that characterize SLE T cells and has identified several that can be used as disease markers; the most prominent among them is the identification of aggregated lipid rafts on the surface of T cells. He has demonstrated that several of the abnormalities (decreased zeta chain, increased cAMP response element modulator and increased protein phosphatase2 A, for example) can be corrected in vitro by transfer into the cells of siRNAs or anti-sense vectors. Such treatments have been shown to correct effector cell function and constitute the basis for: a) development of medicinal approaches to treat human SLE, and b) gene (or siRNA) transfer-modified cell therapy in SLE.

Dr. Tsokos has trained over 80 colleagues, many of whom hold senior leadership positions and run independent laboratories.

Paul Fortin, MD, MPH, FRCPC
Professor of Medicine, University of Toronto

Dr. Fortin graduated from McGill University in rheumatology, and obtained a master’s in public health from Harvard University School of Public Health. He followed three years of special training in clinical epidemiology as a Harvard post-doctoral research fellow under the direction of Dr. Matthew H. Liang at the Robert Breck Brigham Multi-Purpose Arthritis Center of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He is a clinician investigator at Toronto Western Division of University Health Network, a scientist at Toronto Western Research Institute and a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. He holds cross-appointments as staff at the Hospital for Sick Children and as professor at the Institute of Medical Sciences and the Department of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation of the University of Toronto.

His expertise lies in the development of new methods to measure clinical outcomes and the study of these outcomes, including the function and quality of life on populations of patients with arthritis. He is mostly known for his work in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and the related antiphospholipid antibody syndrome.

In 1995, he created the Canadian Network for Improved Outcomes in SLE (CaNIOS) with the specific goal of facilitating lupus research in Canada. CaNIOS brought together many lupus experts who, despite their limited individual cohorts, were able to pool information for the completion of several trials and longitudinal observational studies. Ten adult and four pediatric centers across Canada actively contribute to the Canadian national lupus research effort. Besides obtaining uninterrupted peer-review operating funding since 1995, CaNIOS is building a national database, a clinical trial infrastructure through support from the Lupus Clinical Trial Consortium and a training environment for young researchers. In 2007, Dr Fortin was awarded the 2007 Kirkland Scholarship and the Distinguished Senior Research Investigator Award from The Arthritis Society of Canada.

Judith A James, MD, PhD
Lou Kerr Chair in Biomedical Research
Member, Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation
Professor of Medicine, Adjunct Professor of Pathology OUHSC

Dr. James earned her doctorates of philosophy and medicine from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. She completed her residency and rheumatology fellowship at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and a post-doctoral fellowship within the Arthritis and Immunology Research Program at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, where she became the Lou Kerr Chair in Biomedical Research in 2004 and a full member in 2006.

The major focus of Dr. James’ research is on understanding the etiology and pathogenesis of systemic autoimmune diseases. She has developed unique protein chemistry tools that have enabled the identification of specific regions of autoantigens that are likely to induce an immune response. This data enabled the generation of a peptide-induced model of lupus autoimmunity in a laboratory animal. In addition, these protein chemistry tools have helped to elucidate the sequence of autoantibody generation in human lupus, even before clinical symptoms have occurred and helped to identify Epstein-Bar virus as a putative environmental factor that may lead to the development of lupus in genetically susceptible individuals. Ongoing research focuses on understanding the early events in lupus autoimmunity, identifying predictive serologic markers for SLE development, evaluating genetic associations for SLE subsets and evaluating better lupus therapeutic options.