Rheumatic Diseases Research Investigator Program

Monica Guma, MD., PhD.
Principal Investigator
Associate Professor of Medicine

Associate Director
Professor of Medicine

Gary Firestein, MD
Associate Director
Distinguished  Professor

Andrea LaCroix, PhD.
Associate Director
Professor of Medicine

UCSD NIAMS funded T32 Training Grant in Rheumatic Diseases Research

NIAMS funds Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Serv​ice Award (NRSA) Institutional Research Training Grants (T32) to enable institutions to support pre-doctoral and postdoctoral research training for individuals in the fields of arthritis, musculoskeletal, or skin diseases. The primary goal of the NIAMS T32 program is to prepare individuals to pursue careers in research that will ultimately improve the health of persons with arthritis, musculoskeletal, or skin diseases. The most desired outcome of the T32 program is that trainees pursue further career development, such as through K- or F-series awards, and develop into funded researchers in an academic setting, either as independent investigators or as critical contributors to basic or clinical research teams. However, NIAMS-supported trainees also contribute in other ways, such as in industry, science administration, policy or communications.

Rationale, History, and Mission of the UCSD T32 Training Program in Rheumatic Diseases Research

Rationale and Major Objectives of this T32 Training Program 
Millions suffer from rheumatic disease, with enormous economic/societal impact.Research advances have illuminated needs for more investigation to enhance prevention and treatment strategies, and improve disease outcomes.This mission requires programmatic measures to recruit, mentor, and develop basic and clinical investigators. This enterprise is increasingly challenging, in an era of multifactorial decline in commitment of a critical mass of young investigator Rheumatologists to research careers, and of increased technology-driven and specialized niches. 

- The program has 3 major theme areas of investigation: 

(1) Innate Immunity, and Connective Tissue Biology and Inflammation in Rheumatic Diseases.

(2) Adaptive Immunity in Rheumatic Diseases.

(3) Clinical, Epidemiologic, Genetic, and Translational Research in Rheumatic Diseases.

  • The program is designed to train researchers in biomedical research in the area of rheumatic diseases. We currently have 4 postdoctoral training slots (for MD, MD/PhD, MD/MPH, and/or PhD researchers in bench laboratory or clinical-translational investigation). For 2018-2023, we plan to offer 2 slots for predoctoral students (for dual MD/PhD and/or single PhD students, all to be trained in basic-translational research in the UCSD/La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology (LJI) Biomedical sciences Program in Immunology). 
  • The training program consists of a research experience typically of 24 months, and up to 36 months. Training is under close supervision of mentors collaboratively working on immunologic, molecular biologic, biochemical, and/or epidemiologic, health services, genetics, bioinformatics, and computational biologic problems relevant to the rheumatic diseases. 
  • Our emphasis is on recruiting and training new independent researchers to generate novel translational approaches and targeted therapies to rheumatic diseases, and to contribute to the pipeline of new leaders in Rheumatology research. Development of creative thinking, publication and presentation skills, along with inter-disciplinary team mentoring, and developing and improving faculty mentoring skills, are major features of the program. 
  • The training is directed using complementary expertise and resources of more than one preceptor, tailored to individual trainees and research projects.  
  • All trainees are required to take courses in scientific ethics and scientific research methodology appropriate to their training and development. Other formal academic course work is encouraged for those carrying out basic research. MD trainees without an advanced degree in clinical research methodology will take coursework to obtain a Master’s Degree in Clinical Research (in the UCSD CTSA U54) or an MPH from the UCSD Department of Epidemiology. 
  • To help foster longstanding career commitment to research in subjects relevant to rheumatic diseases, all trainees will participate in Rheumatology research community-building, San Diego community outreach. Non-MD trainees will have targeted didactic and medical observership experiences as educational efforts in Rheumatology. 
  • Trainees are chosen on the basis of their prior academic performance, research career potential and experience, publications, interviews, and recommendations from supervisors. Preference is given to those with acknowledged research interests in rheumatologic and immunologic diseases, and demonstrated capacities in research. 
  • The primary training unit is the UCSD Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology Division, UCSD. Additional training sites include UCSD and VA hospitals and clinics, the UCSD CTSA, and other UCSD Medicine Divisions and Departments, and labs at LJI and Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. 
  • Program graduates will be primed to compete for academic positions as independent investigators in medical schools or research institutes, or as research scientists in industry.
History of this T32 Program at UCSD
Program Eligibility
T32 Program Leadership
T32 Internal Advisory Board (IAB)
Other Participating Faculty
Clinical Research Advisors
Methodology & Resource Advisors     
Mentors in development 
Examples of Collaborations of Participating Primary Mentor Faculty with Other T32 Faculty

    Other Participating Faculty and Their Qualifications Theme 1. Innate Immunity, Connective Tissue Biology, and Inflammation in Rheumatic Diseases.

    David J. Gonzalez, PhD. The Gonzalez lab studies the biochemistry that governs host-pathogen and host-danger signal interactions, including in acute and chronic inflammatory diseases and sepsis. From a systems scale perspective, the lab focuses on studying inflammatory and infectious disease pathogenesis, including host responses and the impact of the microbiome on health and disease. At its core, the laboratory applies multiplexing quantitative proteomics to  simultaneously track thousands of protein dynamics and associate posttranslational modifications   in an accurate and high-throughput fashion.  The lab then interfaces molecular biology techniques to characterize important factors identified during these interactions. When the opportunity arises, translational studies of therapeutic value are   undertaken in tissue culture and murine models. This information is then used by the Gonzalez lab  to design novel strategies for the treatment of human inflammatory and infectious diseases.
    A first generation Mexican-American educated at UCSD and CSUSM, Dr. Gonzalez was a participant in the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement, Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate programs provided unparalleled training opportunities that solidified his desire to pursue an academic career path and further allowed him to mentor students on their path to graduate school. His contributions to innovative science, diversity, and mentoring were recognized in his induction into the Yale Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society, named in tribute to the first minority doctoral recipient in the United States. Dr. Gonzalez is a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Pharmacology and Pharmacy at the UCSD.
    He received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry in the laboratory of Pieter C. Dorrestein. During his Ph.D., Dr. Gonzalez explored several creative avenues utilizing mass spectrometry. He subsequently performed his postdoctoral training supported by the A.P. Giannini Foundation for Medical Research in California, Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award, and the prestigious UC President’s Fellowship in the laboratories of Jack E. Dixon and Victor Nizet.

    Nisarg Shah, PhD.,​ The Shah lab focuses on synthesizing cell-instructive biomaterials as a means to regulate the development and function of T cells and guide their spatiotemporal behavior for applications in inflammatory autoimmune diseases, cell manufacturing, and cancer immunotherapy. Dr. Shah emphasizes the mentorship of trainees to foster the development of their intellectual curiosity and experimental skills through an interdisciplinary research program at the interface of materials science, regenerative medicine and immunology. Dr. Shah received his Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from Johns Hopkins University, a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and trained as a Cancer Research Institute Irvington Postdoctoral Fellow in Bioengineering at the Wyss Institute and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University. In his graduate training, Dr. Shah developed nanoscale self-assembled polymer-based materials to interface with host cells and guide their differentiation for tissue repair and regeneration. As a postdoctoral fellow, he developed synthetic biomaterials to guide the differentiation of blood stem and progenitor cells to manufacture immune cells in vivo. During his training, Dr. Shah has received awards from the Materials Research Society, the Collegiate Inventors Competition, the American Chemical Society and the Biomedical Engineering Society.

    Ananda Goldrath, PhD.,  is a Professor and Chair of the Molecular Biology Section and a Tata Chancellor’s Professorship in the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of California, San Diego where she joined the faculty in 2004. Professor Goldrath is a former Pew Scholar and Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Fellow. She trained with Professor Michael Bevan in the Department of Immunology at the University of Washington for her graduate studies and Professors Diane Mathis and Christophe Benoist at the Joslin Diabetes Center and Harvard Medical School for her postdoctoral studies.  Her work has contributed to the understanding of transcriptional regulation of T cell activation, differentiation and homeostasis. Professor Goldrath’s current research focuses on investigating the transcriptional regulation of T cell immunity in the context of infection, tumors and autoimmunity.

    Research focus:
    The goal of our research is to understand how CD8+ T cell immunological memory is generated and maintained by identifying the transcriptional and signaling events that regulate the survival and differentiation of T cells as they navigate the immune response and become long-lived memory T cells.
    During an immune response to microbial infection, a naive CD8+ T lymphocyte can give rise to terminal effector cells that provide acute host defense and functionally distinct subsets of memory cells that provide durable immunity. Generation of one such subset, tissue-resident memory T cells, is now recognized to be essential for protection at mucosal and body surfaces. Long-lived memory cells provide protection from reinfection and can serve as endogenous defenders against tumor growth and metastases and can also mediate autoimmune pathologies. 
    Tissue-resident memory T cells provide essential sentinel protection at body surfaces such as the intestinal epithelium, and are now clearly understood to be among the key ‘first responders’ in many infection settings. However, these cells can also be the perpetrators of autoimmune attack on self tissues. Although we know that resident-memory cells are an essential component of immune memory, little is known about the transcriptional pathways regulating their formation, survival and function. By identifying the unique transcriptional pathways and regulators of tissue-resident-memory T cells, we will discover novel targets informing strategic design of therapeutic and protective vaccines and how to turn these responses off, the development of which are of critical importance to human health.  

    Current Trainees:

    Listed here is our current trainee and information about the research projects:


    Renee Oles
    Project title: Comparative genomic analysis of gut microbes linked to inflammation to determine genetic factors involved in exacerbating disease

    Edward Barton Prideaux
    Project title: A translational informatics approach to the characterization of epigenetic factors in rheumatoid arthritis evolution​​


    Joseph Gordon, PhD.
    Project title: Musculoskeletal markers of disease progression in systemic lupus erythematosus​

    Rashmi Dhital, MD.
    07/2022- present
    Project title: Maternal-fetal epidemiology in autoimmune rheumatic disease


    Paul Hsu, MD., PhD.
    Project title: T cell dynamics in the GI tract pertaining to spondyloarthritis


    Graduated trainees (as of December, 2023):

    David McBride​
    Anaamika Campeau
    Tianda Deng
    Jacob Mateusz Wozniak
    Wade Johnson
    Sanchez, Concepcion

    Vladislav Tsaltskan, MD.
    Chad Priest, PhD.
    Roxana Coras, MD.
    Jessica Murillo Saich, PhD.​
    Melissa Meyer, PhD.
    Denis Wu, PhD.
    Chelsey Forbess Smith, MD.

    Program Curriculum, Curricular Features and other Materials:
    Program Curriculum
    Postdoctoral Rheumatology Physician Training Pathway
    Postdoctoral PhD Fellow Training in Research
    Curricular Features 
    Single PhD trainees