Meet Dr. Brittany Adler, an Instructor in Medicine at Johns Hopkins University and a rheumatologist in the JHU Scleroderma Center of Excellence. A new SRF-funded investigator in 2020, Dr. Adler is the first author on a paper published this past January in Annals of Rheumatic Diseases. This paper reports on the presence of autoantibodies to telomere-associated proteins in certain scleroderma patients.
Telomeres are the “caps” on the ends of each chromosome that protect the chromosome from damage. When telomeres become too short, they are no longer able to protect the ends of chromosomes, and the cell often dies. In this way, telomere length serves as a ‘biological clock’ or a way to identify cellular aging.
Dr. Adler found that certain patients who have autoantibodies that recognize telomere proteins have shortened telomeres in some of their cells. Having these autoantibodies has also been associated with fibrotic lung disease in scleroderma (SSc-ILD) and with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, a different fibrotic lung disease that shares some clinical features with SSc-ILD. Importantly, this connection raises the possibility that shortened telomeres may play a role in fibrotic lung diseases.
Dr. Adler’s work was done in collaboration with several other SRF-funded investigators: Dr. Paul Wolters of UCSF, as well as physicians and scientists at Johns Hopkins. It builds upon Dr. Wolters’ work investigating the possible role of telomere dysfunction in SSc-ILD.