Dr. J. Michelle Kahlenberg, Department of Internal Medicine Vice Chair for Basic and Translational Research, describes the research opportunities available for trainees in the Rheumatology Fellowship Training Program.

We offer two types of research training in Fellowship. All Fellows are eligible to choose the research track for their second year of the standard two-year Fellowship, but we also offer select trainees a three-year Fellowship program focused on research. While the first year remains dedicated to clinical training, the subsequent two years are committed to a clinical, translational, or basic research project mentored by a senior faculty member, with up to 80% of time able to be devoted to a research project. The goal is to equip trainees with all the tools needed to become successful independent investigators.

The Division Chief, Dr. John Varga; Associate Chief for Research, Dr. J. Michelle Kahlenberg; and Program Director, Dr. Rory Marks are eager to assist fellows as they go through the process of choosing a mentor and project. Most of our fellows choose a mentor from among Rheumatology faculty, but are under no obligation to do so.

Research at Michigan Medicine is conducted within nineteen academic schools and colleges and we are noted for our interdisciplinary research initiatives. The Medical School has 20 clinical and seven basic sciences departments, as well as the Unit for Laboratory Animal Medicine and the Department of Learning Health Sciences. Research, as well as teaching and clinical care, often cross traditional departmental boundaries, particularly in the school's interdisciplinary research centers and institutes, including the Rogel Cancer CenterGeriatrics CenterFrankel Cardiovascular Center, and Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research.

History of Rheumatology at Michigan Medicine

The Michigan Medicine Division of Rheumatology was established in 1960, one of the first specialized U.S. clinical units dedicated to the study and treatment of rheumatic diseases. Our Rackham Arthritis Research Unit had previously been established in 1937 and we were awarded our first NIH Training Grant in 1957. 186 individuals have completed Rheumatology training since 1956, with 65 since 2000. Over that latter period, 15 graduates have made their career in Michigan. 

Dr. David A. Fox, MD, who recently stepped down as our Division Chief after 28 years of distinguished service, gives an overview of our Division's history, describing some of its most notable events.

Rheumatology Research

The Division of Rheumatology is the academic center for autoimmune disease research at our institution. Sponsored research expenditures were $7.9 million for FY 2019, supplemented by philanthropic support for disease-specific programs in SLE and in scleroderma, and four endowed chairs. Rheumatology basic science faculty all have significant peer-reviewed external funding, generally including at least one NIH RO1 or equivalent. Areas of basic science investigation include human immunology and immunopathology, mechanisms of inflammation, thrombosis, connective tissue biology and biochemistry, and molecular genetics. Laboratory research is supported by a strong group of biomedical laboratory core facilities.

There is a strong focus on patient-oriented research, especially targeting scleroderma and SLE. Clinical and epidemiologic research is supported by several key centers and programs, including the Michigan Clinical Research Unit and the Michigan Institute for Clinical & Health Research (MICHR), which supports pilot interdisciplinary clinical research projects. MICHR provides extensive training and support for clinical research personnel; disseminates best practices and resources for clinical research; and provides assistance with budgeting and regulatory approval for clinical trials, facilities, support, and expertise for clinical research.

Interdisciplinary Research

Rheumatology faculty are familiar with other rheumatic-disease related research on campus through close active collaborations and interdisciplinary graduate education programs. We can and do assist fellows find research mentors in other academic units if they wish. We recommend that potential applicants interested in the scope of available research opportunities access websites such as:

Postdoctoral Research Training Program

Fellows interested in pursuing a career in laboratory research are also offered the opportunity to attend a nine-week full-time Postdoctoral Research Training Program at the beginning of their second year. The program is designed to introduce individuals with a strong interest in pursuing a career in academic medicine to new and emerging concepts in cell and molecular biology. The course is divided into two basic categories - Cell biology and biochemistry and Molecular biology and genetics. These two sections are introduced by a core of eight faculty members who have been chosen from the Departments of Biochemistry, Human Genetics, Physiology, Pathology, Pharmacology, Biology, Internal Medicine, as well as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. In part, the program is constructed to provide a basic framework of knowledge in a variety of disciplines. However, more importantly, the course is designed to introduce Fellows to the methods of scientific thought, inquiry, and analysis via the presentation of specific research topics. The program does not emphasize techniques, but rather problem solving exercises.

Clinical/Translational Research

Fellows interested in clinical/translational research are offered the opportunity to enroll in the Master of Science Program in Clinical Research Design and Statistical Analysis offered by the School of Public Health. Coursework is usually completed over a two-year period and is coordinated with the Fellows’ research project and other responsibilities. There are also several funding and training opportunities offered through the Michigan Institute for Clinical & Health Research:

Grant Opportunities Include

  • MICHR K Award - 2-year internal KL2 grant which provides 75% protected time, along with a structured program of research and career development mentorship.
  • Pathway Award - Helps researchers obtain preliminary data that will strengthen extramural grant applications.

Training Opportunities Include

Fellows' Publications

Our Fellows publish in many different peer-reviewed journals, and are regularly selected to present at the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) annual meeting. To view our Fellow's published meeting abstracts, book chapters, and journal articles from the past five years, please click here.