March 14, 2022
Dr. Judith James has wanted to be a doctor since she was four years old. But it wasn’t until she met two teenage lupus patients in the ICU that she determined to specialize in lupus treatment and research.
“Both girls were 19; I was 19; one lived and one died. I was so struck by this horrible disease that could be so severe in people so young. And seeing how one person could not respond to treatment while another could do really well. I was determined to make a difference.”
In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re sharing Dr. James story – one of aspiration and achievement.
While only 26% of her medical school classmates were female, Dr. James did not confront barriers in her choice to become a rheumatologist. She found mentors among both men and women, and after meeting such women trailblazers as Drs. Bevra Hahn and Evelyn Hess, she was proud to identify herself as a rheumatologist. Her own career has followed a similarly stellar track with many leadership positions at Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation including Vice President of Clinical Affairs and Chair of the Arthritis & Clinical Immunology Research Program.
Focusing on what causes system lupus erythematosus, Dr. James is particularly excited about the SMILE trial she’s helping conduct to see if hydroxychloroquine can slow progression among people who have “incomplete lupus erythematosus,” meaning they have a positive anti-nuclear antibody test and some of the criteria for the disease but not enough to be diagnosed. “Maybe by using hydroxychloroquine for a short time, we can reset their immune system before they develop lupus.”
Dr. James sees patient involvement as the key to the future of lupus research. “Patients are helping us understand parts of the experience like fatigue that scientists don’t always think about. With the explosion of new scientific techniques, we are developing ways to track symptoms in real time so we will be able to help patients more specifically and more quickly.”
As a new member of our Scientific Advisory Board, Dr. James notes, “LRA has been amazing in increasing visibility of lupus, bringing resources to its research, and bringing young bright minds to the field.” Now she appreciates the opportunity to “ask the big questions, to help the organization invest in the projects that make meaningful advances to improve lives, prevent disease progression and someday a cure.”