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Mary Kirkland Center for Lupus Research

2009-2012 Kirkland Scholar

David S. Pisetsky, MD, PhD

Professor of Medicine and Immunology
Duke University Medical Center

Dr. Pisetsky is currently Professor of Medicine and Immunology at the Duke University Medical Center and Chief of Rheumatology at the Durham VA Hospital.  He received his BA from Harvard College magna cum laude in 1967 and his PhD and MD degrees from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1972 and 1973.  He was then an intern and resident in Internal Medicine at the Yale-New Haven Hospital (1973-1975) and then a clinical associate at the National Cancer Institute (1975-1978).  He joined the faculty of the Duke University Medical Center in 1978.  Since coming to Duke, Dr. Pisetsky has conducted an independent research program focused on the pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and the immunological properties of nuclear macromolecules.

Among his contributions to immunology research, Dr. Pisetsky has characterized the anti-DNA antibody response in SLE and discovered the existence of antibodies to bacterial DNA in normal individuals.  These antibodies were previously unrecognized although their presence decisively established the differences in the immune properties of foreign and self DNA.  Dr. Pisetsky subsequently showed that bacterial DNA is a mitogen and can induce an autoantibody response.  These studies led to investigations on the immune properties of synthetic DNA as adjuvants and immunosuppressive agents. 

In more recent studies, Dr. Pisetsky has been investigating the immunological activity of products of dead and dying cells which have been implicated in the pathogenesis of SLE.  These products include HMGB1, a nuclear protein with alarmin activity, and microparticles; microparticles are small membrane-bound vesicles that are released from dead and dying cells.  The work on HMGB1 and the microparticles has been important in linking cell death with inflammation in the context of SLE and defining the manner in which nuclear molecules impact on the immune system to induce autoreactivity.  As part of this work, Dr. Pisetsky has developed biomarkers to assess the expression and properties of anti-DNA autoantibodies and the complexes they form with DNA.    

Dr. Pisetsky has published over 300 papers and chapters and, in 2001, he was awarded the Howley Prize from the Arthritis Foundation for his work. From 2000-2005, he served as Editor of Arthritis and Rheumatism, the leading journal in the field of rheumatology, and currently serves as the Physician Editor of The Rheumatologist.  In addition to his scientific work, Dr. Pisetsky has had an active career in writing and has published over 50 short stories, essays and narratives.  His work has appeared in journals such as JAMA, Annals of Internal Medicine and Lancet.  His column called “Rheuminations” appears each month in The Rheumatologist.