Medical Center Development

Stanford Medicine Benefactor

Andrew Chan, MD, PhD and John Imboden, MD

Andrew Chan, MD, PhD, (left) of The Arthritis Foundation, Northern California Chapter, helped to establish a breakthrough partnership directed by John Imboden, MD, of UCSF (right) and William Robinson, MD, of Stanford (not pictured).

A Collaborative Paradigm for Advancing Arthritis Research

For the more than 50 million Americans who suffer from arthritis, simple movements involved in getting dressed, taking a walk, or washing the dishes can be an agonizing ordeal. The disease breaks down the cartilage in the joints, causing pain, stiffness, and loss of mobility. People with arthritis must learn to adapt their family life, work, and relationships, living within the confines of daily pain. Osteoarthritis—one of the most common forms of the disease—is the leading cause of disability in people over age 65.

Arthritis appears in more than 100 forms; its cause is still not completely known and there is no cure. Most established therapies have been aimed at reducing pain or involve invasive surgery to replace damaged joints.

But a breakthrough collaboration between Stanford and the University of California, San Francisco is focused on bringing new insights into the genetics and biological mechanisms of arthritis and to support advances in the diagnosis, treatment, and possible prevention of the disease. The Northern California Arthritis Foundation Center of Excellence was established by a grant from The Arthritis Foundation, Northern California Chapter, along with funding from each institution to combine their expertise and core resources to improve patient outcomes.

"We want to encourage a new way to foster collaborative research and to synergize the strengths of two pioneering academic medical centers," says Andrew Chan, MD, PhD, senior vice president of research biology at Genentech and chair of the foundation's medical and scientific committee. "We believe that their interactions will lead to discoveries not yet anticipated and offer hope for millions of adults and children with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other forms of arthritis."

More than 20 clinical and basic science investigators are involved in the center. They will meet regularly to exchange ideas and share progress on collaborative investigations that build on existing strengths in immunology, bone biology, vascular biology, and rheumatology. Their studies are aimed at shedding new light on how the disease develops in order to identify remedies that can impact the disease's progress, regenerate cartilage in damaged joints to significantly reduce the signs of arthritis, and lessen the pain and disability it causes.

The Stanford partnership is directed by William Robinson, MD, an associate professor of immunology and rheumatology, who is using state-of-the-art strategies to identify molecules that may be involved in the development of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.

Robinson's lab studies the molecular mechanisms of autoimmune diseases, applying translational research to adapt discoveries made at the bench into practical patient care tools and therapies.

The UCSF contingent is directed by John Imboden, MD, chief of the Division of Rheumatology at San Francisco General Hopital.

A major objective of the center is to develop targeted therapeutics that treat these diseases without incurring serious adverse side effects. Research collaborations are also focused on identifying biomarkers that can allow physicians to predict how an individual will respond to treatment and which therapies will provide the best result—a big step toward personalized medicine.

"Combining these two centers was an opportunity for The Arthritis Foundation to do something quite special. We're starting with excellent critical mass and will expand efforts that show the most promise," Chan says.

"The beauty of a dynamic center like this is that it combines complementary strengths while fostering different views and encouraging discovery," he adds. "We hope that this collaboration will help to establish new scientific paradigms for arthritis. That requires breaking away from the existing models of how science is done and how scientific research is funded."


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