This year’s Carol Nachman Prize for Rheumatology was awarded to David T. Felson, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and epidemiology at BUSM and BUSPH. The Prize is one of Germany’s highest honors and the most prestigious international award for research in rheumatology—the study of arthritis and other disorders of the joints, muscles and ligaments. Since 1972, the award recognizes outstanding research and innovation achievements, aimed at promoting clinical, therapeutic and experimental research in the field.
Felson’s research interests include understanding how to prevent and treat osteoarthritis (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 MRI features of normal knees and knees with pain. He also studies outcome measurement (tests that objectively determine a patients’ 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 (OA). 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 magnetic resonance imaging 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. Recent work from his group suggests that chronic alterations in the nervous system that enhance pain sensitivity affect most patients with OA pain.
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 and coming up with the American College of Rheumatology definition of improvement (ACR20). 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.
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 and the Director of Clinical Epidemiology at Boston Medical Center.