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Kawai receives award to accelerate lupus research

Jul. 23, 2020, 9:37 AM


by Leigh MacMillan

Vivian Kawai, MD, MPH, research assistant professor of Medicine, has received an LRA-BMS Accelerator Award from the Lupus Research Alliance and sponsoring partner Bristol Myers Squibb.

Vivian Kawai, MD, MPH

Kawai is one of 10 investigators to receive the award, which aims to “stimulate lupus research innovation, accelerate investigation of human lupus…and realize synergies between academic and industry,” the Lupus Research Alliance said in a statement. Each investigator will receive funding support of $300,000 over two years.

Lupus, also known as systemic lupus erythematosus, is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects about 6 million people worldwide. It is a complex disease that ranges from mild symptoms like fatigue, rash and joint pain to severe complications that include damage of critical organs and death.

Large genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified more than 100 genomic locations associated with susceptibility to lupus, but it is unclear how these risk loci cause disease and influence its heterogeneous presentation.

Kawai and her collaborators — Nancy Cox, PhD, Jonathan Mosley, MD, PhD, and C. Michael Stein, MBChB — are exploring the genetic contributors to lupus risk and disease severity. They are using methods that integrate genomic, gene expression (transcriptomic) and protein (proteomic) data to identify potential causal genes in complex traits and new therapeutic targets. They will use these tools and BioVU, Vanderbilt’s DNA biobank and database of de-identified electronic health records, to discover genetic signatures and pathways that play a role in lupus and its severity.

“Defining the biological pathways that determine lupus heterogeneity and progression is important for uncovering mechanisms that can be targeted with new therapies and a personalized approach,” Kawai said. “I am grateful to the Lupus Research Alliance and Bristol Myers Squibb for the recognition and support of our research program.”

Kawai completed her MD at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Lima, Peru, and her MPH at Université Libre de Bruxelles in Brussels, Belgium. She joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 2011.

Kawai received a 2011 Presidential Trainee Award from the American Society of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics for her work on aspirin resistance in lupus. She is a former recipient of the Vanderbilt Physician Scientist Development Award and a former fellow of the Programs to Increase Diversity among Individuals Engaged in Health-Related Research sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

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