UA, Banner – University Medicine Recognized as ‘Scleroderma Research and Treatment Center’ in Tucson

UA pulmonologists and rheumatologists say the designation will increase patient referrals, improve access to clinical trials and research funding for this autoimmune rheumatic disorder that affects, by some estimates, as many as 300,000 Americans. This is only the second such center in Arizona.

University of Arizona Health Sciences research facilities and clinical facilities of Banner – University Medicine in Tucson have been recognized nationally as a “Scleroderma Research and Treatment Center” by the Scleroderma Foundation.

The University of Arizona Scleroderma Research and Treatment Center at Banner – University Medicine Tucson is part of the UA Arthritis Center, the only “center of excellence” in Arizona dedicated specifically to arthritis, rheumatic and musculoskeletal disorders, and the UA Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine.

“This is another feather in the cap for our Interstitial Lung Disease Program, which is rapidly making progress in advanced care for patients with this difficult-to-treat condition,” said Sairam Parthasarathy, MD, UA professor of medicine and chief of the pulmonary division.

“It is a multidisciplinary effort with rheumatologists here, and we are delighted it has received recognition of the Scleroderma Foundation as a stamp of excellence in the care that we provide to patients with scleroderma-related lung diseases.”

The UA/Banner program was added at the end of February, said Sachin Chaudhary, MD, a UA assistant professor of medicine, director of the Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD) Program and co-director of UA Scleroderma Research and Treatment Center at Banner – UMC Tucson. He noted ILDs can be the manifestation of a group of disorders, including scleroderma, sarcoidosis and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which cause progressive scarring of lung tissue.

“This means more referrals for us. It will give patients in Southern Arizona a place where they can go and feel more confident about reliability of the care they receive. In addition, the designation means we’ll be able to conduct more clinical trials and more research in these areas,” Dr. Chaudhary said.

The ILD Program also was recognized last fall as a center of excellence by the World Association of Sarcoidosis and Other Granulomatous Disorders (WASOG).

In December, it also was included in an early access program for a genomic classifier to speed up diagnoses of pulmonary fibrosis. This is important because about 90 percent of people with scleroderma will suffer from pulmonary fibrosis, the leading cause of death in scleroderma patients.

Research and clinical care capability were boosted last fall with the arrival of the other co-director of the Scleroderma Research and Treatment Center, Alicia Rodriguez-Pla, MD, PhD, MPH.

A UA assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Rheumatology, Dr. Rodriguez-Pla earned her medical degree at the Universidad de Navarra in Pamplona, Spain, and her doctorate at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. She also received advanced training in vasculitis and scleroderma at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the Baylor Institute for Immunology Research in Dallas, and the Boston Medical Center, affiliated with Boston University.

“Designation of a Scleroderma Research and Treatment Center at Banner – University Medical Center by the Scleroderma Foundation is a great achievement and demonstrates national recognition of the excellent multi-disciplinary collaborations in research and clinical care we provide to scleroderma patients,” said C. Kent Kwoh, MD, UA Arthritis Center director, chief of the Division of Rheumatology, the Charles A.L. and Suzanne M. Stephens Endowed Chair in Rheumatology and a professor of medicine and medical imaging.

“These patients often have complex multi-system disease that requires a coordinated team approach with input from rheumatologists, pulmonologists, gastroenterologists, nephrologists, cardiologists, dermatologists, vascular surgeons and neurosurgeons,” Dr. Kwoh added.

Dr. Rodriguez-Pla underscored how critical patients are to the research and care equation. "ln my opinion, scleroderma is one of the autoimmune diseases in need of further investigation to develop new therapies. Collaboration between patients and physicians is crucial for developing successful anti-fibrotic therapies. We are hopeful that being recognized as a center for treatment of scleroderma, more patients will establish a fruitful relationship and mutual collaboration with us," she said.

Estimates vary from 50,000 to 300,000 people suffer from scleroderma in the United States, mostly women between the ages of 30 and 50. The American College of Rheumatology pegs the figure at between 75,000 and 100,000. The condition is incurable but can be treated to mitigate symptoms, particularly with timely diagnoses. It’s important to recognize and treat organ involvement early on to prevent irreversible damage.

The Tucson center is only the second such center in the state (the other is at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale). In the Southwest, other Scleroderma Foundation-recognized centers are at the University of Colorado, University of Utah and UCLA. About 40 such centers have been established across the nation. For all research and treatment centers recognized by the Scleroderma Foundation by state, click here.

About the UA Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine

The University of Arizona Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine is the largest of 14 divisions in the UA Department of Medicine, one of six original departments at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson, with 14 divisions covering medical subspecialties from cardiology to rheumatology. Learn more: deptmedicine.arizona.edu/pulmonary

About the University of Arizona Arthritis Center

The UA Arthritis Center, a Center of Excellence at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson, is a research leader focused on identifying the causes of arthritis and developing improved technologies for diagnosing, measuring and treating the disease. It is affiliated with the college directly and through the UA Division of Rheumatology, one of 14 divisions in the UA Department of Medicine which is the largest department in the college. For more information: arthritis.arizona.edu

About Banner – University Medicine

Banner – University Medicine is the academic arm of Banner Health—one of the largest nonprofit health-care systems in the country, with 28 hospitals in six states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada and Wyoming. With a special emphasis on patient care, research and teaching, Banner – University Medicine includes Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix, Banner – University Medical Center South, Banner – University Medical Center Tucson, Banner Children’s at Diamond Children’s Medical Center, physician clinics and a health plan division. They are affiliated with the University of Arizona Health Sciences colleges in Tucson and Phoenix. When you choose an academic medical center, you are experiencing the future of medicine today. Learn more: bannerhealth.com