Dr. Emily Somers, associate professor of medicine, environmental health sciences, and OB/GYN is the winner of the 2014 BCBSM Foundation McDevitt Excellence in Research Award in the area of clinical research. The award, named in honor of the foundation’s late chairman Dr. Frank J. McDevitt recognizes research that contributes to improving health and medical care in Michigan, and includes a $10,000 unrestricted research grant to further her clinical research endeavors.
Dr. Somers was honored with this award for her landmark study of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus) epidemiology published earlier this year as the Editor’s Pick in the field’s leading journal, Arthritis and Rheumatology. With funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Somers led the Michigan Lupus Epidemiology & Surveillance (MILES) Program, which involved screening of more than 13,000 potential lupus cases in a population of 2.4 million. The study found lupus prevalence to be 5 times higher than previously estimated, and the existence of significant health disparities in the risk and severity of lupus. 1 in 537 black females in Southeastern Michigan were estimated to have lupus, and in this demographic, peak risk of lupus occurred at an earlier age, and higher rates of severe or life-threatening complications of lupus were found, such as neurologic involvement and end-stage renal disease.
This multidisciplinary effort involved collaborations with the Michigan Department of Community Health, neighboring academic health centers, and the cooperation of hospitals and physicians throughout the region. Other U-M faculty involved in this effort were Drs. W. Joseph McCune (Rheumatology), Wendy Marder (Rheumatology and OB/GYN) and Lu Wang (Biostatistics). Somers was also awarded a $3 million U01 from the CDC to extend the MILES Program into a longitudinal cohort & biobank to investigate risk factors for the development and progression of lupus.