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Faces of Scleroderma: Dr. Giuseppina Alessandra Farina
Giuseppina Alessandra Farina always knew she wanted to be a physician because of her love of visiting with her father's patients growing up. What she didn't foresee were the turning points that changed her path from clinical practice to bench research.
After medical school in her native Italy, Dr. Farina continued her fellowship in Rome focusing on pulmonology and immunology. She began to see many patients with auto-immune diseases, including scleroderma.
“One of my clinic patients was the runner-up in the Miss Italy pageant. She was a beautiful young woman. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with Systemic Sclerosis and the disease affected her rapidly. I could only offer her encouraging words about therapies that could potentially help but what she really wanted to hear was, ‘Why?’ This was so discouraging for me as a physician; I could only imagine what it was like for her as a patient.”
Dr. Farina quickly became fascinated by the giant jigsaw puzzle that is scleroderma. “I was attracted because of the unknown combined with the multitude and varying systemic complications.”
During her fellowship, Dr. Farina won an award for her work on a lung fibrosis clinical trial. Because of her newfound interest in scleroderma, she used the award money to travel to the 2000 American College of Rheumatology conference in Philadelphia. “That ACR meeting was life-altering for me. I attended a session on pulmonary hypertension in scleroderma by the late renowned researcher, Dr. Joseph Korn, of Boston University. And I was so inspired by his work that I knew I wanted to join his research team.”
Within three months of that fateful meeting, Dr. Farina had bettered her English, convinced Dr. Korn to be her mentor for a year, and had relocated to Boston. She was then invited to stay another year. “Unfortunately, I had to go back to Rome to finish my fellowship and could not stay any longer.”
During the next several years, Dr. Korn continually tried to lure Dr. Farina back to the research lab. The choice plagued her – could she give up her clinical work with patients to become a full-time bench researcher? After all, she had entered medicine to be with patients instilled from her childhood memories and dreams.
In the end, Dr. Farina couldn’t resist the chance to combine the skills she had gained as a physician with the chance to unravel the mysteries of the cause of the disease and in September 2007, made Boston University Medical Center home. “I wanted to apply the skills I gained treating scleroderma patients with innovative and creative research.”
Many of Dr. Farina’s former patients are begging her to come back to Italy which is heart-wrenching for her. “I have no regrets. I am here because of those patients. I am excited about what I am seeing in my work. I want results, for them and for all those living with scleroderma.”
In January 2009, Dr. Farina was the recipient of a new investigator award made possible by the Walter A Coyle Memorial Research Award funded by the Scleroderma Foundation’s New England Chapter. “I feel like the Foundation and all of its contributors have invested in my future – a future I hope will bring the answers to that illusive cause of scleroderma. The grant gives me hope and in turn, I want to bring hopeto others.
Without finding the cause, we can’t find the cure. And that will not be accomplished without more research dollars and new investigators dedicating themselves to scleroderma research like Dr. Farina.
Please help sustain the vital work of Dr. Farina and many other researchers who are striving to find new treatments, medications, and the cause and a cure for scleroderma by making a generous donation to the Scleroderma Foundation Annual Fund today.