Gift from grateful patient funds new endowed chair in rheumatology

Timothy and Elaine Peterson promote awareness, research of inflammatory arthritis; Jonathan Kay, MD, appointed inaugural recipient

April 13, 2016

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Jonathan Kay, MD, (left) with Timothy S. and Elaine L. Peterson.

A gift from philanthropists Timothy S. and Elaine L. Peterson, of Wellesley, will create a new endowed chair at UMass Medical School. The chair, in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Rheumatology, was approved by the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees at its April meeting.

Jonathan Kay, MD, professor of medicine and director of clinical research for the Division of Rheumatology, has been appointed the inaugural recipient of the Timothy S. and Elaine L. Peterson Chair in Rheumatology. Dr. Kay will be invested this fall.

“We are so fortunate to have Tim and Elaine Peterson as committed and engaged supporters of our institution,” said Chancellor Michael F. Collins. “The Petersons’ gift is a wonderful display of generosity and, more importantly, a tremendous demonstration of support for our medical school. With their investment in our research enterprise, in general, and Dr. Kay, in particular, the Petersons are partnering with us to advance clinically relevant discoveries and knowledge, which, as Mr. Peterson’s example powerfully illustrates, have the real potential to lead to novel and more effective treatments and therapies.”

Tim Peterson, who has psoriatic arthritis, said he and his wife are committed to supporting research into and awareness of inflammatory arthritis. He spent more than a decade helping to manage Harvard University’s endowment before founding Regiment Capital Advisors LLC in 1999. He retired from Regiment Capital in 2014.

“As far as Elaine and I are concerned, Dr. Kay saved my life,” said Peterson, who has been under Kay’s care for more than a decade. Initial treatment for his inflammatory arthritis by other doctors was unsuccessful. “For many months and years, I dreaded getting out of bed. The pain was debilitating. Ever since I went on Dr. Kay’s protocol, the pain has been manageable.”

“Because of all the ads on TV, there is a misconception that you can take an over-the-counter pill and relieve all arthritis pain,” he continued. “Well, I can tell you, that is not the kind of arthritis we’re talking about. This disease, this level of pain, is debilitating. Our goal is to support research and to raise awareness of arthritis.”

Thanks to an earlier gift from the Petersons, Kay and colleagues at UMMS are in the second year of a clinical trial examining the response of bone to rheumatoid arthritis and spondyloarthropathies, a group of diseases that affect primarily where tendons and ligaments insert into bone. In rheumatoid arthritis, chronic inflammation can result in bone destruction. However, in spondyloarthropathies, inflammation often results in new bone formation. Kay is probing the molecular roots of this dissimilar bone response to seek a better understanding of both diseases.

“Inflammatory arthritis is not just an old person’s disease,” Kay said. “It often strikes people in their prime and dramatically interferes with their ability to function.”

Kay has enrolled more than 350 patients in the study, with a goal of eventually enrolling 1,000. Participants will have their medical history documented and give blood samples, which will be tested for biomarkers—the telltale molecules present in patients that reflect the activity of disease. Their clinical progress will be correlated with a range of lifestyle factors and lab tests. Data from those with spondyloarthropathies will be compared to that gathered from an existing cohort of patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

Kay is leading the clinical study, working collaboratively with Ellen M. Gravallese, MD, the Myles J. McDonough Chair in Rheumatology at UMMS and chief of rheumatology at UMass Memorial Medical Center, whose laboratory will analyze the blood and tissue samples.

“I am very grateful to Tim and Elaine Peterson for their generous support of our institution, of my work and of our research in rheumatology,” Kay said. “My colleagues and I deeply appreciate their commitment to furthering scientific understanding of inflammatory arthritis.”

Kay came to UMMS in 2009 from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He earned his medical degree from the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and completed an internship and residency at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and fellowships in rheumatology and immunology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He lectures internationally and is the author of more than 140 publications and book chapters.

“Dr. Kay gave us our lives back. And we have such confidence in him, and this institution, that we hope these investments in UMass Medical School will help find an easier path for people who are afflicted with this disease,” Elaine Peterson said.

Kay will be formally invested as the Timothy S. and Elaine L. Peterson Chair in Rheumatology at Convocation in the fall at the annual Convocation/Investiture ceremonies, bringing the total number of endowed chairs and professorships at UMMS to 45. Endowed positions at UMMS allow private donors to support a specific area of academic excellence and scientific pursuit and increase the university’s ability to retain the best faculty.