ACR 2005 meeting opens with awards ceremony

Zosia Chustecka

November 14, 2005

Nov 14, 2005

San Diego, CA - In a new move, the 2005 annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) opened Sunday evening with the presentation of awards to distinguished investigators and the welcoming of new ACR masters. Previously, these ceremonies have been dispersed throughout the meeting, giving a chance for many of the award winners to deliver a presentation. This year, the awards ceremony was condensed into one session, and only the highest award winner had the opportunity to address the audience.

Dr Gerald Weissmann (Source: NYU School of Medicine)

The highest honor, the ACR Presidential Gold Medal Award, went to Dr Gerald Weissmann, research professor of medicine (rheumatology) and director of the Biotechnology Study Center at the New York University School (NYU) of Medicine. Weissmann has spent much of his career at NYU, receiving his medical degree there in 1954 and holding the position of director of the division of rheumatology from 1973 to 2000. In the citation for the award, the ACR notes that his laboratory has presented evidence that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an immune complex disease mediated by Fc and complement receptors on phagocytes and has shown that signal transduction in phagocytes is controlled by cystic nucleotides, microtubules, and antirheumatic agents.

Weissmann was also responsible for the codiscovery and naming of liposomes in 1965. He was a cofounder, together with EC Whitehead, of the Liposome Company Inc and a director of that company from 1982 to 2000, and two drugs based on his liposome work are now in the clinic (Abelcet [ABLC or amphotericin B lipid complex liposome] from the Liposome Company Inc and Myocet [liposomal doxorubicin] from Elan Pharmaceuticals). Among his other accomplishments, Weissmann was awarded the ACR Distinguished Investigator Award in 1992. Outside his scientific publications, he is a keen author and has penned many essays and reviews of cultural history, some of which have been used as examples of the genre in books reviewing different styles of writing.

In his address to the audience, Weissmann paid tribute to former colleague Dr Morris Ziff, who died recently. Originally at NYU, but later in Texas, Ziff was the "very model of an investigative rheumatologist," Weissmann said, and recited a poem in his memory.

The PresidentialGold Medal Award is worth $5000; all the other awards are worth $3000. The ceremony was presided over by current ACR president Dr Elizabeth Tindall.

Unraveling genetic mechanisms

Dr Daniel Kastner (Source: National Institute of Arthritis & Musculoskeletal Diseases)

The ACR Distinguished Investigator Award went to Dr Daniel Kastner, chief of the genetics and genomics branch of the Intramural Research Program at the National Institute of Arthritis & Musculoskeletal Diseases (NIAMS) (Bethesda, MD). During the past 15 years, Kastner's lab has played a leading role in defining the genetics and pathophysiology of an inherited group of disorders characterized by recurrent episodes of fever and inflammation, Tindall told the audience. His group mapped out and cloned the gene for familial Mediterranean fever, which encodes a protein, pyrin, that defines a family of more than 20 human proteins involved in the regulation of inflammation. His group also discovered that mutations in the 55kDA tumor-necrosis-factor (TNF) receptor were the cause of a dominantly inherited inflammation disorder they named and clinically characterized as TNF-receptor-associated periodic syndrome (TRAPS). More recently, the team codiscovered mutations in a pyrin family protein, cryopyrin, in patients with neonatal-onset multisystem inflammatory disease (NOMID).

Kastner's group has also explored these diseases clinically, instigating therapeutic trials that demonstrated the efficacy of anti-TNF therapy in TRAPS and interleukin-1-receptor antagonist therapy (using anakinra) in NOMID. In addition, they were the first to propose the now widely accepted concept of autoinflammatory disease and to describe certain disorders characterized by the hyperactivity of the innate immune system.

Chronicle of NSAID gastropathy

Dr James Fries (Source: Stanford University)

The ACR Distinguished Clinical Research Award was presented to Dr James Fries, professor of medicine, division of immunology and rheumatology at Stanford University Medical Center (Palo Alto, CA). According to the ACR, the hallmark of his research has been the bringing of quantitative data to central clinical problems of rheumatology for nearly 40 years.

During the early 1970s, Fries introduced the concept of computers to rheumatology clinical research, with the development of time-oriented medical records, the first relationship databases, and chronic-disease data banks. He founded ARAMIS (Arthritis Rheumatism and Aging Medical Information System) in 1976 and has directed it for the National Institutes of Health for the past 30 years, producing more than 1000 primary peer-reviewed publications. ARAMIS has identified the epidemiology of nonsteroidal-anti-inflammatory-drug (NSAID) gastropathy, stimulated changes in drug development and clinical care, and chronicled the more recent decline in this epidemic, the ACR comments.

In addition, Fries and colleagues were leaders in "inverting the pyramid" in RA treatment, with studies quantifying the mortality and disability effects of RA, the risks of NSAIDs, and the effectiveness of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). Fries proposed the "saw-tooth strategy" of early and consistent DMARD use.

In 1980, Fries presented the compression-of-morbidity paradigm, positing a reduction in cumulative lifetime disability. His publication on this subject [ 1 ] has become the most widely cited gerontological article and has led to the development of the Healthier Aging & Osteoarthritis Prevention Programs, the ACR comments. Fries also developed the Health Assessment Questionnaire, which has transformed the way long-term rheumatic-disease outcomes are viewed, and has overseen its broad adaptation, the ACR citation adds.

The ACR Distinguished Rheumatologist Award was bestowed on Dr Ross E Petty, emeritus professor of pediatrics at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver). In presenting the award, Tindall noted that Petty was one of the earliest pediatric rheumatologists in Canada and established one of the first training programs in the discipline. Together with colleagues, he has supervised the training of more than 30 pediatric rheumatologists, who now hold positions all over the world. In collaboration with Dr James Cassidy, he coedited the standard reference textbook in the field, the Textbook of Pediatric Rheumatology, which is now in its fifth edition.

The Distinguished Service Award went to Dr Richard Panush, professor and chair of the department of medicine at St Barnabas Hospital Medical Center, New Jersey Medical School and Mount Sinai School of Medicine (Livingston, NJ). Panush has served on numerous committees of the ACR and has been an associated editor of ACR News and a coeditor of the Hot Line. He has also served as editor and on the editorial board of numerous medical journals, including Arthritis & Rheumatism, and has served on the US Food and Drug Administration Arthritis Advisory Committee.

The Paulding Phelps Award, named after the first ACR president from a community rheumatology practice, was presented to Dr Michael Condit, who has been at Rheumatology Associates (Indianapolis, IN) since 2001. Before this, he was with the Kelsey Seybold Clinic (Houston, TX), a large multispecialty clinic in the Texas Medical Center. For the 23 years he was there, he played many roles in that organization, culminating in the board chair and CEO position, which he held for seven years. As an administrator, Condit held national leadership positions with practice-management organizations and taught internal-medical residents at the Baylor College of Medicine (Houston). He is currently acting as the ACR representative to the US Bone and Joint Decade.

Basic research also honored

This year, two researchers shared the Henry Kunkel Young Investigator Award, which is bestowed on a physician scientist less than 45 years old who has made an important scientific contribution to the field of rheumatology. The wording of this award is about to change, and beginning in 2006 it will honor a young physician scientist who has "made outstanding independent contributions to basic or clinical research in the field of rheumatology."

Dr Mary Nakamura (Source: University of California, San Francisco)

One of the winners was Dr Mary Nakamura, associated professor at the department of medicine, University of California, San Francisco, and a staff physician at the San Francisco VA Medical Center. Although primarily engaged in basic research, she is actively involved in teaching in the clinical-rheumatology fellowship program. A past recipient of the ACR Physician Scientist Development Award, she has also been honored with a Presidential Early Career Award.

Nakamura's research has focused on innate immune cells that serve as important sensors of their microenvironment and provide early responses to infectious, neoplastic, and environmental stresses. In presenting the award, Tindall commented that her work on innate immune receptors on natural killer cells "has contributed to our understanding of how the effector functions of these cells are closely regulated through a variety of activating and inhibitory cell-surface receptors."

Recently, her lab has discovered that innate immune receptors play an important role in osteoclasts, which are the critical regulators of osteoclast differentiation and function, and are likely to be important in bone diseases involving excessive osteoclast activity. As a result, osteoclasts are now considered an integral part of the innate immune system, and Nakumura's lab is currently exploring the role of specific receptors in osteoclast development, bony remodeling, and inflammatory arthritis.

Dr Chandra Mohan (Source: University of Texas Southwestern Medical School)

Sharing this prize was Dr Chandra Mohan, assistant professor of medicine and immunology, department of rheumatology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical School (Dallas). A native of Singapore, Mohan came to the US for graduate education in 1989 and stayed. Over the past decade, he has been working on elucidating the pathogenic mechanisms and genetic factors underlying systemic lupus erythematosus. His early work, under the mentorship of Dr Syamal Data, has helped to define some of the molecular mechanisms through which T cells can drive lupus B cells to make antinuclear antibodies. Under his postdoctoral mentor Dr Edward Wakeland, his work has helped to define the genetic basis of lupus in murine models.

Together with colleagues, Mohan has undertaken a series of pioneering studies that have helped transform the study of a polygenic disease into a series of monogenic components, the ACR comments in the award citation. As a result of these "congenic dissection" studies, it is now evident that the hyperreactivity of both T and B cells and the loss of tolerance to chromatin are under distinct genetic control.

Ongoing work in Mohan's laboratory has highlighted how specific genetic elements break immune tolerance, whereas others serve to facilitate antibody-mediated renal disease. His goal now is to define the molecular pathways through which lupus evolves and to translate the lessons from animal studies to the clinic.


  1. Fries JF. Aging, natural death, and the compression of morbidity. N Engl J Med 1980; 303:130-135.


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