BU rheumatologist receives Arthritis Foundation award

(Boston)–David T. Felson, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Boston University’s Schools of Medicine and Public Health (BUSM, BUSPH), has been honored with the Lee C. Howley, Sr. Prize for Arthritis Science Service from the Arthritis Foundation.

This is the second time Felson has received this distinguished award (he was also a 2004 Howley Award winner). The award recognizes his immense contributions to the field of arthritis and in particular to osteoarthritis (OA). He has led the Foundation’s Clinical Studies Forum series and conference through tireless efforts and vast knowledge. According to the organization the award celebrates how Felson’s service and advice have been invaluable and unfailingly generous across all levels of the organization.

Felson’s research interests include understanding how to prevent and treat OA–also known as degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis. He is studying whether treatments for rheumatic diseases are effective and particularly in osteoarthritis, identifying risk factors for disease, testing treatments and characterizing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) features of normal knees and knees with pain. He also studies outcome measurement (tests that objectively determine a patient’s baseline function at the beginning of treatment) in rheumatic disease and has focused in this work on rheumatoid arthritis trials.

Felson led a series of major studies to identify prevalence, impact and risk factors for knee osteoarthritis. In the Framingham Osteoarthritis Study, his group first documented that obesity increased the risk of OA and that weight loss could lessen that risk. The first to introduce MRI in large-scale studies, his group discovered that meniscal tears and other structural pathology were present in most middle-age and older persons regardless of knee pain. He inaugurated the study of structural correlates of joint pain, identifying for the first time that in OA, synovitis and bone marrow lesions cause pain and these structural findings have now emerged as targets of treatment. He has led efforts to test new non-pharmacologic treatments for OA, some of which are now widely used.

Working with the FDA and rheumatology organizations, he also led the effort to standardize clinical trial outcome measurement in rheumatoid arthritis, creating the first core set of outcomes, coming up with the American College of Rheumatology definition of improvement (ACR20) and later defining remission in rheumatology arthritis. This outcome standardization made it possible for the first time to gauge the relative efficacy of new drugs such as TNF inhibitors.

The recipient of numerous awards, Felson was the first non-basic scientist recipient of the Kunkel Young Investigator Award from the American College of Rheumatology, and from this same organization, he received its inaugural Clinical Research Award. He was awarded the International Nachman Prize in 2017, given to the rheumatologist who has contributed most to our understanding and treatment of rheumatic diseases.

Felson graduated from Harvard College and received his MD from Johns Hopkins University. After a residency in internal medicine at Case Western Reserve, he trained in rheumatology at Boston University where he also received his MPH in epidemiology. He joined the BU faculty in 1984, became a professor in 1994 and was appointed Chair of Clinical Epidemiology in 2001. He is the Director of Training and Education for the Boston University Clinical Translational Science Institute.

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