Betty Diamond, MD
Head, Center for Autoimmune and Musculoskeletal Diseases
Main Area of Research
Fighting the pain of lupus today — and finding new treatments tomorrow.
Inspiring the Fight Against Disease
One of the country’s leading lupus researchers, Dr. Betty Diamond has been instrumental in helping define the biology of the disease and devise new ways to treat it.
Dr. Diamond was always drawn to science. Her father was a historian and she watched her brother following the same path. Wanting to find her own career way in the world, she went to medical school and cast her attentions on autoimmune diseases. The inspiration for her scientific adventures: She was a fan of southern women writers such as Flannery O’Connor, who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, and Carson McCullers, who had lupus.
In keeping with the strong scientific interest in the immune system and autoimmune diseases, Dr. Diamond studies systemic lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disease that can cause many painful symptoms and is a challenging condition to control. About 1.5 million people in the United States have lupus, and most are women. The first hint of symptoms occur on the brink of adulthood. Lupus is three times more common in Asians, African-Americans and Hispanics than in Caucasians.
Dr. Diamond recently moved her entire research laboratory at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center to The Feinstein Institute to continue her life-saving work. Unraveling how the immune system wages an attack on the body it protects may lead to treatments not only for lupus but for other immune-mediated conditions. In clinical studies, Dr. Diamond and her colleagues are collecting blood samples from patients and asking them to take a battery of cognitive tests in addition to undergoing a brain scan called magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Dr. Diamond recently received a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to help identify patients whose lupus may be exacerbated by the hormone estrogen. She is studying the brains of lupus patients to better understand the wide range of neuropsychiatric problems, with hopes that she can figure out how the immune system targets these regions and identify ways to stop this process. Dr. Diamond is working on a collaborative agreement to study rheumatoid arthritis and lupus with investigators in Mali. Her team is also expanding its lupus clinical programs throughout Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and Long Island.
Funding Future Research
Dr. Diamond is expanding the vital work of her lab in understanding how the immune system relates to diseases like lupus and how science could lead to a cure. Visionary supporters can assist in funding new and crucial areas of research, including:
- Developing a non-immunosuppressive way to treat lupus. Half of lupus deaths result from infection from immunosuppressive therapy used to treat the disease.
- Improved treatments. Dr. Diamond currently has about 10 clinical trials under way in an attempt to develop more effective treatments.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Trauma may compromise the blood/brain barrier, circulating antibodies that can cause brain pathology.
- Maternal antobodies. Dr. Diamond is studying the children of mothers with lupus and exploring fetal brain abnormalities, learning disorders and autism.
- Genetics. The laboratory is collaborating with Dr. Peter Gregersen and others in studying the sisters of lupus patients to understand genetic and environmental factors that lead to disease.
- Malaria. Dr. Diamond is studying whether the malaria infection produces antibodies that protect against lupus.