Rheumatic Diseases Research Investigator Program

Principal Investigator
Professor of Medicine
Nunzio Bottini, MD., PhD.
Associate Director
Professor of Medicine
Maripat Corr, MD.
Associate Director
Professor of Medicine
Gary Firestein, MD.
Associate Director
Distinguished Professor
Andrea LaCroix, PhD.
Associate Director
Professor of Medicine

Marcia da Silva
Division Coordinator

2017 Annual UCSD Rheumatic Diseases Research T32 Symposium

UCSD NIAMS funded T32 Training Grant in Rheumatic Diseases Research

NIAMS funds Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Institutional Research Training Grants (T32) to enable institutions to support pre-doctoral and postdoctoral research training for individuals in the fields of arthritis, musculoskeletal, or skin diseases. The primary goal of the NIAMS T32 program is to prepare individuals to pursue careers in research that will ultimately improve the health of persons with arthritis, musculoskeletal, or skin diseases. The most desired outcome of the T32 program is that trainees pursue further career development, such as through K- or F-series awards, and develop into funded researchers in an academic setting, either as independent investigators or as critical contributors to basic or clinical research teams. However, NIAMS-supported trainees also contribute in other ways, such as in industry, science administration, policy or communications.

Rationale, History, and Mission of the UCSD T32 Training Program in Rheumatic Diseases Research

Rationale and Major Objectives of this T32 Training Program 
Millions suffer from rheumatic disease, with enormous economic/societal impact.Research advances have illuminated needs for more investigation to enhance prevention and treatment strategies, and improve disease outcomes.This mission requires programmatic measures to recruit, mentor, and develop basic and clinical investigators. This enterprise is increasingly challenging, in an era of multifactorial decline in commitment of a critical mass of young investigator Rheumatologists to research careers, and of increased technology-driven and specialized niches. 

- The program has 3 major theme areas of investigation: 

(1) Innate Immunity, and Connective Tissue Biology and Inflammation in Rheumatic Diseases.

(2) Adaptive Immunity in Rheumatic Diseases.

(3) Clinical, Epidemiologic, Genetic, and Translational Research in Rheumatic Diseases.

  • The program is designed to train researchers in biomedical research in the area of rheumatic diseases. We currently have 4 postdoctoral training slots (for MD, MD/PhD, MD/MPH, and/or PhD researchers in bench laboratory or clinical-translational investigation). For 2018-2023, we plan to offer 2 slots for predoctoral students (for dual MD/PhD and/or single PhD students, all to be trained in basic-translational research in the UCSD/La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology (LJI) Biomedical sciences Program in Immunology). 
  • The training program consists of a research experience typically of 24 months, and up to 36 months. Training is under close supervision of mentors collaboratively working on immunologic, molecular biologic, biochemical, and/or epidemiologic, health services, genetics, bioinformatics, and computational biologic problems relevant to the rheumatic diseases. 
  • Our emphasis is on recruiting and training new independent researchers to generate novel translational approaches and targeted therapies to rheumatic diseases, and to contribute to the pipeline of new leaders in Rheumatology research. Development of creative thinking, publication and presentation skills, along with inter-disciplinary team mentoring, and developing and improving faculty mentoring skills, are major features of the program. 
  • The training is directed using complementary expertise and resources of more than one preceptor, tailored to individual trainees and research projects.  
  • All trainees are required to take courses in scientific ethics and scientific research methodology appropriate to their training and development. Other formal academic course work is encouraged for those carrying out basic research. MD trainees without an advanced degree in clinical research methodology will take coursework to obtain a Master’s Degree in Clinical Research (in the UCSD CTSA U54) or an MPH from the UCSD Department of Epidemiology. 
  • To help foster longstanding career commitment to research in subjects relevant to rheumatic diseases, all trainees will participate in Rheumatology research community-building, San Diego community outreach. Non-MD trainees will have targeted didactic and medical observership experiences as educational efforts in Rheumatology. 
  • Trainees are chosen on the basis of their prior academic performance, research career potential and experience, publications, interviews, and recommendations from supervisors. Preference is given to those with acknowledged research interests in rheumatologic and immunologic diseases, and demonstrated capacities in research. 
  • The primary training unit is the UCSD Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology Division, UCSD. Additional training sites include UCSD and VA hospitals and clinics, the UCSD CTSA, and other UCSD Medicine Divisions and Departments, and labs at LJI and Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. 
  • Program graduates will be primed to compete for academic positions as independent investigators in medical schools or research institutes, or as research scientists in industry.
History of this T32 Program at UCSD
Program Eligibility
T32 Program Leadership
T32 Internal Advisory Board (IAB)
Other Participating Faculty
Clinical Research Advisors
Methodology & Resource Advisors
Mentors in development 
Examples of Collaborations of Participating Primary Mentor Faculty with Other T32 Faculty

    Current Trainees:
    Listed here are our current trainees and information about their research projects

    Chelsey Forbess-Smith, MD.
    Chelsey Forbess-Smith, MD. 7/15-present. Mentoring team: Primary Mentor: Christina Chambers, PhD, Co-Mentor: Arthur Kavanaugh, MD, Monica Guma, MD., PhD., Maryam Tarsa, MD. Project: Infantile hemangiomas in newborns born to women with autoimmune diseases.
    Dr. Smith, a Harvard baccalaureate, medical graduate of NYU, and medicine residency graduate of UCLA, completed accredited Rheumatology Fellowship at UCSD and training in clinical research. Her research training emphasis is on the women's health issues in rheumatic  diseases of fertility, pregnancy, lactation, and adverse effects of antirheumatic drugs.Her primary project compares incidence of infantile hemangiomas in infants born to women with or without autoimmune diseases, controlling for potential confounders. Subgroup analyses address same question related to specific diseases and medications. Infantile hemangiomas are the most common benign tumor of infancy, and their incidence has been noted in preterm birth, small for gestational age infants, and other prenatal complications (preeclampsia, etc). There is also a correlation with White race and female sex. She is looking at data and co-variates for incidence of infantile hemangiomas in babies born to women in the OTIS cohort with various autoimmune diseases (mainly RA, JRA, Crohns, AS, Psoriasis, Psoriatic arthritis). Clinically, she has co-developed a specialty clinic with the Reproductive Medicine faculty member Dr. Maryam Tarsa, specifically for research on pregnant women with autoimmune diseases. Her didactic coursework has initially focused on bioinformatics methodology, via formal UCSD CREST training in biostatistics, as she works to analyze the University of California autoimmune disease patient database for birth defects and pregnancy outcomes.

    Angel Mei Bottini, PhD.

    Angel Mei Bottini, PhD. 7/1/16-present. RA epigenetics and integrative omics. Mentoring team: Primary mentor: Gary Firestein, MD. Co-mentors: Arthur Kavanaugh, MD, Wei Wang, PhD, Pandurangan Vijaiyanand, MD, PhD (at LJI). Project: New therapeutic targets for reversing the aggressive phenotype of synovial fibroblasts.
    Angel Mei Bottini is a PhD graduate of the Translational Medicine program of the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, La Jolla. As a postdoc, she is being trained in computational biology in the RAnet project, working with fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLS). She is building a Bayesian network model to predict new therapeutic targets that could revert the aggressive phenotype of RA FLS back to normal. In her first project, she has participated in the selection and validation of targets for the RAnet systems biology approach to RA devised by Dr. Firestein. This involved first biologically validating the synoviocyte transcriptome signature and working with the informatics team to identify clusters of genes that can be knocked down or inhibited to revert the FLS phenotype to non-RA. This has been accomplished and she has also shown that the selected genes can be knocked down with siRNA. The next steps will involve blocking the panel of genes and determining if the transcriptome profile changes as predicted by RAnet. Her second project is on RA Chromatin States in FLS. She is working on newly identified chromatin states that are characteristic for RA and can be distinguished from RA using epigenetic marks.

    Dennis Wu, PhD.
    Dennis Wu, PhD. 1/1/17-present. Mentoring team: Primary mentor: Nunzio Bottini MD, PhD. Co-mentors: Stephanie Stanford, PhD, Monica Guma MD, PhD. Project: Tyrosine phosphatase κ in synovial fibroblast invasiveness.
    Dr. Wu is a PhD graduate (in Immunology) of UC Davis. In his primary project, Dr. Wu aims to further dissect the role of PTPκ and its extracellular domain in RA using animal models of arthritis, and 2) further characterize the function of Tyrosine phosphatases in synovial fibroblast invasiveness. Dr. Wu is assessing disease severity clinically and quantify cartilage and bone destruction by histology and micro-CT analysis. FLS derived from transgenic mice are used for in vitro cell-based assays to further clarify the role of tyrosine phosphatases in FLS signaling. 

    Program Curriculum, Curricular Features and other Materials:
    Program Curriculum
    Postdoctoral Rheumatology Physician Training Pathway
    Postdoctoral PhD Fellow Training in Research
    Curricular Features 
    Single PhD trainees

    Syllabus, Schedule, and Materials for Specific Curriculum Components: