Sara McCoy, MD, PhD, named to new national leadership program for female physician-scientists

Sara McCoy, MD, PhD, in her lab.

Sara McCoy, MD, PhD, assistant professor, Rheumatology, is one of the first six physician-scientists in the nation named to a new NIH-sponsored program designed to support female scholars studying autoimmune and immune-mediated diseases in women.

Dr. McCoy studies Sjögren's disease, which is typified by severe, inflammatory dry eye and mouth and impacts the quality of life of roughly four million people in the United States—predominantly women.

Prevalence and difficulty to treat make Sjögren's one of the key targets of the new program, the Team Science Leadership Scholars Program (LSP) in Women’s Health, Autoimmune and Immune-Mediated Diseases, which has been jointly developed by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health and the NIH Office of Data Science Strategy.

Fine-tuning our understanding

In addition to structured leadership training in conflict resolution, mediation, and other areas, the LSP will provide Dr. McCoy with up to $500,000 in funding over two years. Most of that funding will support a project that will use data from salivary gland mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) to identify their role in the development and severity of Sjögren's.

“Cells of one type might all seem to be similar,” Dr. McCoy explains. “But when you dive down into the functional or transcriptional data of individual cells, you can see that they’re expressing or producing different things—which means they’re probably acting differently, too. So, we can delineate subtypes of MSCs based on their actions in the context of Sjögren's. For example, we might see that one type is more inflammatory, while another is more fibrotic.”

From the resulting subtypes, Dr. McCoy intends to determine if and how each corresponds with symptom and disease severity.

This, in turn, may lead to more effective immunomodulatory therapies for Sjögren's.

Part of a larger network

Crucially, the data Dr. McCoy and the other LSP investigators will use comes from the NIAMS Accelerating Medicines Partnership Autoimmune and Immune-Mediated Diseases (AMP AIM) program—a large and growing repository of high-yield, large-scale data analyses from across multiple autoimmune diseases.

“AMP AIM is a really neat, national effort to bring together the top experts in all of these areas of rheumatological research and create what is essentially a huge, shared data library,” says Dr. McCoy. “Part of the LSP is to get more female investigators plugged into this data structure as leaders and contributors.”

Learn more about the inaugural LSP cohort and AMP AIM.

Banner: Sara McCoy, MD, PhD, in her lab. Credit: Clint Thayer/Department of Medicine.