Endocrine, Musculoskeletal, Neuroscience
Development of a Therapeutic for Prevention and Treatment of Diabetic Complications, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Alzheimer’s Disease
2016 Harrington Scholar-Innovator
In speaking with Ann Marie Schmidt, MD, or reviewing her extensive list of medical research accomplishments and accolades, it’s difficult to imagine that she ever lacked self-confidence or endured bullying in school. “It was difficult being the girl who loved science, but the bullying didn’t bother me enough to deter me from my goals,” she recalls. “Fortunately, even then I had an inner strength.”
She set her goal of medical school early in life, an unusual career choice for a girl in the 1970s and one sure to attract negative attention from her fellow students. Dr. Schmidt credits her high school biology and chemistry teachers for supporting her dream. “They recognized my ability in science and pushed me to excel,” she explains.
Even so, she still lacked complete confidence in herself and applied to New York University School of Medicine (NYU) through the school’s early decision option, “to give myself that extra chance for success,” Dr. Schmidt says. She was accepted in the spring of her junior year in college. Finally confident of achieving her goal, she enrolled at NYU School of Medicine, fully intending to become a clinician.
Her goal shifted slightly as she went through her post-graduate training. “I realized that what I was missing was an understanding of how the biology worked,” Dr. Schmidt recalls. “Then I did a research fellowship, and that was my point of no return.” She credits Robert Silber, MD, her NYU fellowship director at the time, with persuading her to take a serious interest in laboratory research.
Dr. Schmidt, now Professor of Medicine, Pharmacology and Pathology at NYU, studies inflammation with the same focused determination she pursued in medical school. She and her team have identified RAGE, a receptor on the cell surface that increases inflammation in seemingly disparate disease such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease.
They are searching for a small molecule modifier that can potentially alter the RAGE pathway to reduce inflammation. Working with Harrington Discovery Institute, their first disease target will be diabetes with the intent of eventually expanding their scope to inflammatory changes in brain blood vessels and immune cells that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
The work is intensely challenging, Dr. Schmidt notes, particularly being able to translate laboratory research to a treatment. Despite difficulties and setbacks – including losing all of her experimental mice and most of the laboratory’s stored samples in Superstorm Sandy – she continues for two personal reasons.
“The bottom line is the realization of how terribly awful these diseases are. This is how I can give back to the community and those who have supported me in my journey.”