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Pham named Guy and Ella Mae Magness Professor of Medicine

Rheumatologist develops nanomedicine approaches for inflammatory diseases

by Tamara BhandariFebruary 12, 2021

Washington University Photographic Services

Christine Pham, MD, director of the Division of Rheumatology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has been named the inaugural Guy and Ella Mae Magness Professor of Medicine.

Pham was chosen for the honor in recognition of her work involving nanomedicine approaches in the treatment of inflammatory diseases and the role of biomolecules known as proteases in inflammatory processes. The Department of Medicine established the Guy and Ella Mae Magness Professorship in Medicine in 2018 with proceeds from the Ella Mae Magness Trust.

“I am delighted to recognize Dr. Pham’s accomplishments with this professorship named for two noted health professionals and graduates of Washington University,” said Chancellor Andrew D. Martin. “Dr. Guy and Ella Mae Magness worked tirelessly to promote public health, and their dedication to medicine and to our community is reflected in Dr. Pham. She has distinguished herself both in her research on the role of neutrophil proteases in inflammatory arthritis and her commitment to mentoring and supporting junior faculty.”

Pham will be officially installed when the COVID-19 pandemic is under control. She will be installed by David H. Perlmutter, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs, the George and Carol Bauer Dean of the School of Medicine, and the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor; and Victoria J. Fraser, MD, the Adolphus Busch Professor of Medicine and head of the Department of Medicine.

Also a professor of pathology & immunology, Pham more recently has focused on nanomedicine approaches for various inflammatory conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic, incapacitating disease involving painful, swollen joints. Nanomedicine involves using tiny transport particles for a concentrated delivery of therapeutics directly to specific sites such as the joints. Nanoparticle formulations also help protect unstable drugs from degradation in the bloodstream, thereby unlocking the potential of new kinds of therapeutics. Pham employs a nanocomplex that protects an unstable experimental arthritis drug and efficiently delivers it to the joints, where it suppresses specific and harmful pathways that cause inflammation in diseased tissues without affecting the global immune system.

“Christine Pham exemplifies faculty who are the foundation of what we do at the School of Medicine today and are poised to do tomorrow,” Perlmutter said. “She is an outstanding physician-scientist with expertise in immunology, rheumatology and translational approaches to inflammatory arthritis and autoimmune diseases. She draws upon this broad expertise to promote multidisciplinary research in inflammatory diseases with the goal of developing better treatments for patients.”

Pham directs Washington University’s Rheumatic Diseases Research Resource-Based Center, which provides resources to accelerate basic and translational research into rheumatic diseases, aiming to improve treatment for people suffering from rheumatic diseases such as arthritis, lupus and vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels.

Before moving into nanomedicine, Pham explored the role of proteases — enzymes that break down proteins — produced by certain white blood cells in inflammatory diseases. Her laboratory cloned and characterized the protease cathepsin C. Her work led to the development of cathepsin C inhibitors that are in clinical trials for a form of chronic inflammatory lung disease.

“Dr. Christine Pham’s work on the role of innate and adaptive immune responses in various inflammatory processes has led to the identification of new therapeutic targets for these diseases,” Fraser said. “She is an esteemed member of the Washington University community who has a deep commitment to innovative multidisciplinary research. She is an outstanding mentor and champion for residents, fellows and junior faculty. She is well-deserving of this recognition.”

Guy N. Magness, MD, (1899-1982) earned his medical degree at the School of Medicine in 1928. He began his career as a school physician and in 1931 rose to become director of medical services for University City Public Schools, where he served for 40 years. He also held the position of director of health for University City from 1952 to 1981, gaining recognition as a leader in the field of health problems in public education. In 1963, he co-chaired a polio vaccination drive, and more than a million St. Louisans were immunized as a result. He was in the Army Medical Corps in World War II and retired from the Army reserve as a colonel.

Ella Mae Magness (1905-2000) was Missouri’s director of public health from the late 1930s to the early 1940s. In the late 1940s, she was the western regional director of public health covering seven states. She earned a certificate in nursing in 1928 and a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1937, both from Washington University School of Nursing. She earned a master’s degree in public health from Columbia University in New York, and she served in the U.S. Army’s Nurse Corps during World War II, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Washington University School of Medicine’s 1,500 faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is a leader in medical research, teaching and patient care, ranking among the top 10 medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.