UC San Diego / CU Anschutz

University of California San Diego with University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

Rheumatoid Arthritis Research Program

Rheumatoid arthritis is a common autoimmune condition, affecting approximately 1.3 million in the U.S. alone. Patients who develop this form of arthritis, which causes pain and swelling in the joints and can even damage internal organs in severe cases, typically require lifelong treatment to manage their symptoms. Researchers have discovered that certain molecules in the blood can identify people at high risk for developing the disease years before symptoms start. However, ways to prevent the disease in these individuals have been elusive.


In partnership with the Allen Institute for Immunology, researchers at the University of California San Diego and the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus will study how the immune system changes over time in people at high risk for rheumatoid arthritis before, during and after they develop the disease. Understanding the changes in the immune system as the body progresses from a pre-disease state to disease will help researchers develop treatments that could target rheumatoid arthritis earlier in people at risk of developing it, perhaps even preventing the disease before it starts. 

Gary S. Firestein, M.D.

University of California San Diego

Dr. Gary Firestein is director of the Clinical and Translational Research Institute, dean and associate vice chancellor of clinical and translational research and distinguished professor of medicine at the University of California San Diego. He joined the faculty as an assistant professor of medicine in 1988. Four years later, he was recruited by Gensia, Inc. to be director of immunology. At Gensia, he supervised drug discovery efforts, focusing on the potential role of purines in inflammation. In 1996, he returned to UC San Diego Health where he served as chief of the Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology from 1998 to 2010. Dr. Firestein’s research focuses on the pathogenesis and treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. He was among the first to map the cytokine profile of rheumatoid arthritis and demonstrate the dominance of macrophage and fibroblast products. These studies played a pivotal role in the development of highly effective anti-TNF and other anti-cytokine therapies for rheumatoid arthritis.

Dr. Firestein was chairperson of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Arthritis Advisory Committee and has served on the board of directors of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), the Rheumatology Research Foundation and the Veteran’s Medical Research Foundation. He has also served on the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) Advisory Council. He has been elected to the American Society for Clinical Investigation and the Association of American Physicians.

Dr. Firestein received the Arthritis Foundation’s Jane Wyman Humanitarian Award in 2010 for his contributions to rheumatology. In 2006 and 2016, he received the Arthritis Foundation Lee C. Howley Sr. Prize for Arthritis Research and in 2009 received the American College of Rheumatology Distinguished Investigator Award. In 1998, he received the Carol-Nachman Prize, an international award given for outstanding contributions to rheumatology research. Dr. Firestein has written more than 350 articles and chapters and has edited and written several books. He served as the deputy editor of Arthritis & Rheumatism and is currently the editor-in-chief of Kelley and Firestein’s Textbook of Rheumatology.