The 2020 Stanley J. Korsmeyer Award: Judith A. James, MD, PhD

Judith A. James, MD, PhD, is the recipient of the 2020 Stanley J. Korsmeyer Award from the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI) for her contributions to understanding the mechanisms of systemic autoimmune diseases.

Dr. James earned her BS from Oklahoma Baptist University in 1989 and her PhD and MD from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center (OUHSC) in 1993 and 1994, respectively. From 1993 to 1995, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF) in the laboratory of John Harley, MD, PhD. At OUHSC, she completed her internship and residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in rheumatology.

Systemic autoimmune diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), arise from dysregulation of the immune system. This dysregulation signals immune cells to target a person’s normal proteins, protein complexes, tissues, and organs, creating potentially extremely damaging inflammation and shortened lifespans. Dr. James has focused on identifying changes in the immune system before clinical diagnosis of disease. In 2003, she and her collaborators used the US Department of Defense Serum Repository to identify SLE autoantibodies in samples collected from military personnel before their diagnosis with SLE; this research demonstrated that one or more of these autoantibodies are present for several years before diagnosis and that they progressively accumulate before the appearance of disease symptoms. This work has since progressed to a US multicenter clinical trial, initiated in 2017, to identify people who are at high risk for developing SLE and to treat them with hydroxychloroquine before the onset of disease, with the goal of delaying onset and disease severity.

Dr. James’s research has been supported by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, among other sources.

In addition to her body of research now comprising more than 280 journal articles, Dr. James has a deep mentoring history spanning the student spectrum and postdoctoral fellows, with a particular dedication to America Indian and underrepresented minority trainees.

Dr. James, a native of Pond Creek, Oklahoma, began her affiliation with OMRF as a Sir Alexander Fleming Scholar in 1988. She joined the scientific staff of OMRF in 1994. She is Vice President of Clinical Affairs, OMRF, and Associate Vice Provost for Clinical and Translational Science, OUHSC. She holds the George Lynn Cross Research Professorship and is Professor of Medicine, Professor of Pathology, and Adjunct Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, OUHSC; and is Lou C. Kerr Endowed Chair in Biomedical Research, OMRF.

Dr. James has received national and international recognition for her achievements, including the US Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (2000); the Edmund L. Dubois, MD, Memorial Lectureship, Research and Education Foundation of the American College of Rheumatology (2007); the Paul Klemperer, MD, Memorial Lectureship of the American College of Rheumatology (2019), and the Evelyn V. Hess, MD Award from the Lupus Foundation of America (2019). She was elected to the Henry Kunkel Society in 2002 and to the ASCI in 2003. Dr. James served from 2012 to 2015 on the ASCI Council as Secretary-Treasurer Elect and Secretary-Treasurer.

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