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Third WFBR endowed chair established
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Third Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research endowed chair established

Katherine A. Fitzgerald, PhD, professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology and director of the Program in Innate Immunity at the UMass Chan Medical School, was named the recipient of the third Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research (WFBR) endowed chair in December 2015.

“Dr. Fitzgerald is an internationally recognized leader in the field of innate immunity,” said Chancellor Michael F. Collins. “Her extraordinary research includes seminal discoveries in the mechanisms of the innate immune system that underlie inflammatory and autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as host defenses against infection.”

Fitzgerald’s long career studying the molecular basis of host defense and the inflammatory process was launched when, as a teen growing up in Ireland, she enrolled in a summer research internship at a local hospital.

“I was doing pretty simple experiments, but I enjoyed seeing the process through and getting a result with my own hands. From that point I was pretty much hooked,” she said.

Fitzgerald joined the Medical School in 2001, after completing her PhD and post-doctoral training at Trinity College in Dublin. Her groundbreaking insights have helped to advance the understanding of inflammasome activation in health and disease.

Her lab focuses on uncovering the molecular basis of host defense and the inflammatory process with the ultimate goal of understanding how dysregulation of sensing, signaling and gene regulation in innate immunity underlie the pathogenesis of infectious, inflammatory and autoimmune disease in humans. Using an interdisciplinary approach and a highly collaborative style, she has made numerous novel discoveries including the identification of Toll-like receptor adapter molecules and uncovering new evidence for the importance of regulatory long-coding RNAs in innate immune cells.

“We now appreciate that inflammation underlies the pathogenesis of large numbers of diseases,” said Fitzgerald. “By understanding these innate pathways, I think we can gain important insight into inflammatory diseases more broadly.”

“Such discoveries, ultimately focused on improving human health, are a distinctive hallmark of our research enterprise,” said Chancellor Collins at the 2016 Investiture ceremony. “The characteristics that define Dr. Fitzgerald and her research—such as her collaborative manner, commitment to mentoring, collegial style, innovative spirit, creative approach and principled nature—are distinguishing trademarks of our faculty. She is, thus, an embodiment of what makes UMass Chan Medical School a singular place.”

With more than 230 publications to her name, Fitzgerald’s work has been broadly recognized; most recently, she was named a Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researcher two years in a row.

The Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research Chairs were established through the generosity of donors to the Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research Scholars Fund. Fitzgerald joined Vivian Budnik, PhD, chair and professor of neurobiology, and Gyongyi Szabo, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, vice chair for research in the Department of Medicine, associate dean for clinical and translational science and director of the MD/PhD Program, as a WFBR Chair.