LRA-BMS Award Recipients Announced


As many of us know, funding is a crucial part of medical research and innovation, particularly within the rare disease realm. Recently, the Lupus Research Alliance (LRA), in conjunction with Bristol Myers Squibb, announced 9 recipients of the LRA-BMS Accelerator Award. According to a press release, the $3 million in funding will spur lupus research towards discovering biomarkers, developing trials, and learning more about the condition.

LRA-BMS Accelerator Award

Each grant recipient receives approximately $300,000 for their project over a 24-month period. Recipients receive oversight and mentorship from the Joint Steering Committee. Overall, the LRA-BMS Accelerator Award is designed to improve understanding of lupus and patient outcomes. Check out the winners!

Dr. Victoria Werth, MD

Dr. Victoria Werth, MD, operates out of Pennsylvania. With over 40 years of medical experience, she is uniquely poised to help meet unmet patient needs. Her project will focus on patients with cutaneous lupus, or patients who experience lupus-related skin rashes or lesions. By identifying immune cells that relate to treatment, Dr. Werth can create a model to predict which patients will best respond to antimalarial drugs and hydroxychloroquine.

Dr. Kenneth C. Kalunian, MD

Dr. Kalunian is a board-certified rheumatologist, so he has experience working with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other similar conditions. Through his project. he will create a tool to test the efficacy of drug therapies during lupus-related clinical trials.

Dr. Patrick Gaffney, MD

Overall, Dr. Gaffney seeks to uncover the connection between lupus-related organ damage, race, and ethnicity. As Program Chair for the Genes & Human Disease Research Program at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF), Dr. Gaffney has experience within the field of genetic research. By determining racial biomarkers, Dr. Gaffney hopes to also identify new treatment focuses.

Dr. Ilana Brito, PhD

Have you ever heard that your gut health impacts your overall health? That is the focus of Dr. Ilana Brito’s research project: how gut bacteria affect immune response in patients with lupus. Ultimately, she hopes to discover lupus biomarkers for more targeted treatment and diagnosis.

Dr. Joel Guthridge, PhD

Much like Dr. Gaffney, Dr. Guthridge hails from the OMRF. His research will focus on patient responses to abatacept, a prescription medication often used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. During his research, Dr. Guthridge will use specialized technology to predict how certain treatments will impact patients.

Dr. Vivian K. Kawai, MD

As a Research Assistant Professor at VUMC, Dr. Kawai is well-versed in medical research. Overall, her research focus is genetics. Through her project, Dr. Kawai will combine and evaluate data from various scholarly sources. Then, she will identify how certain genetic risk factors affect the chance of developing moderate to severe lupus.

Dr. Chandra Mohan, MD, PhD

This LRA-BMS award recipient holds experience in pathology, rheumatology, and cellular immunology. His past research identified urine biomarkers in patients with lupus. Now, Dr. Mohan will monitor the efficacy of these biomarkers in understanding lupus and monitoring treatment. If his approach is successful, it offers a less invasive path to diagnosis and treatment than kidney biopsies.

Dr. J. Michelle Kahlenberg, MD, PhD

Dr. Kahlenberg lists her research interests as skin disease, innate immunity, lupus pathophysiology, and inflammasome biology. Through this project, she will source blood and skin samples from patients with systemic or cutaneous lupus erythematous. By measuring immune response, Dr. Kahlenberg hopes to understand the underlying causes, diagnostic techniques, and treatments for each lupus subset.

Dr. Marta Alarcón-Riquelme, MD, PhD

Dr. Alarcón-Riquelme has a background in genetic research. Her project will explore the genetic basis behind the abnormal autoimmune response in patients with lupus.


Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disorder which occurs when the body mistakenly attacks its own organs and tissues. As a result, it can affect many parts of the body, from the joints and skin to the kidneys and heart. Generally, lupus affects females between the ages of 15 and 45. The disorder is also more prevalent in Asian, African American, Latinx, and Native American populations.

Symptoms one might experience include:

  • Fatigue
  • Butterfly-shaped rash on the face
  • Skin lesions that worsen with sun exposure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Joint and chest pain
  • Fever
  • Dry eyes
  • Headaches
  • Confusion and memory loss
  • Heightened risk of infection, cancer, and pregnancy-related complications
  • Organ inflammation

Learn more about lupus here.

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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