Research Scholars Program – BIRCWH Mentors

David Felson, MD, MPH

Dr. David T. Felson is a Professor of Medicine and Public Health and Principal Investigator of the NIH-funded Boston University Multipurpose Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases Center and the Boston University Multidisciplinary Research Center. He directs a research group consisting of approximately ten doctoral and master’s level researchers with expertise in the fields of epidemiology and biostatistics. He has served as a mentor over the past ten years for at least 14 doctoral level or postdoctoral fellows in either epidemiology, arthritis or general internal medicine. Former fellows and doctoral students are currently faculty members at Harvard Medical School, University of Western Ontario in Canada, and Cornell Medical School. Dr. Felson was elected in 1994 to the American Society for Clinical Investigation and is the only nonbiomedical researcher to have received the Henry J. Kunkel Young Investigator Award from the American College of Rheumatology, the most prestigious single award given yearly to investigative rheumatologists under age 45.

Dr. Felson’s research has consistently focused on musculoskeletal diseases highly prevalent in the elderly, and he has written extensively on the epidemiology of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, both areas of key importance in women’s health. Recent accomplishments include the first longitudinal study of knee osteoarthritis which has provided documentation that the occurrence of osteoarthritis is closely correlated with a person’s weight and has reported that physically active older persons are at higher risk of developing osteoarthritis than sedentary elders. Recent work has also suggested for the first time an association of dietary factors including vitamin C and vitamin D with osteoarthritis progression.

Also, Dr. Felson’s research has helped to suggest that inflammation may be the main causes of pain in osteoarthritis. Dr. Felson’s work at the Framingham Study has also helped define the disability impact of knee osteoarthritis in elders.

Ongoing projects include the study of osteoarthritis of the knees and hands in Framingham cohort and offspring study groups and the newly constituted Framingham Omni Cohort which is a sample of minority, middle-aged and elderly subjects in Framingham. Also, Dr. Felson is a coinvestigator in the Framingham Osteoporosis Study, a study he started. In this study, members of the Framingham cohort, offspring and Omni cohorts are getting repeated bone mineral density assessments and dietary and physical factors are being tested in terms of their correlation with bone loss.

Dr. Felson is the principal investigator of the Beijing Osteoarthritis Study, a study of the prevalence of knee, hand and hip osteoarthritis in a population-based sample of Beijing residents 60 years and over. This study will help elucidate whether Chinese rates of hip osteoarthritis are, as is believed, much lower than rates in Caucasians and will help elucidate why. Further, it will evaluate the prevalence of other forms of arthritis and test whether arthritis prevalence is associated with the much more physically active lifestyles of elder Chinese than elders in the United States.

As principal investigator of a study of the inheritance of osteoarthritis based at Framingham, Dr. Felson is taking advantage of the family structure of the Framingham Study to evaluate how osteoarthritis is inherited and whether a particular gene induces osteoarthritis in family members. Parents and children have now been studied, and results preliminarily suggest several major loci in the genome that appear to be associated with the occurrence of osteoarthritis in affected siblings.

Dr. Felson has also been the chairperson of a committee to develop outcome measures in rheumatoid arthritis trials and has been similarly involved in developing definitions of outcome for trials and other musculoskeletal diseases. While much of the international collaboration and data analysis work involved in this endeavor has been completed, Dr. Felson and his colleagues at the Arthritis Center continue to be involved in evaluating the methodology of trials in arthritis. Dr. Felson has a longstanding research interest in meta-analysis and fellows working with him are currently performing meta-analyses looking at rheumatoid arthritis therapy and therapy of steroid-induced osteoporosis.

Dr. Felson’s research interests in the epidemiology of musculoskeletal diseases has not been limited to osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. He is currently also involved in studies of foot disorders in the elderly, studies of the prevalence and risk factors for Raynaud’s phenomenon and studies of back pain and its impact in the elderly.

Dr. Felson has a well-established role as mentor to junior investigators, and has demonstrated his role in developing interdisciplinary training through the CREST clinical training program.