Marta Casal Moura, MD, MSc, MSPH, began her one-year Vasculitis Clinical Research Consortium (VCRC)-Vasculitis Foundation (VF) Fellowship in July 2022. For anti-neutrophil autoantibody (ANCA)-associated vasculitis (AAV), she is studying the predictors of response to plasma exchange in patients who have AAV glomerulonephritis and how histologic scores can predict the response to treatment. For giant cell arteritis, she is exploring the predictors of relapse, using artificial intelligence models.
Dr. Casal Moura chose the VCRC-VF Fellowship Program because of the engagement with the vasculitis clinical and research community, and her desire to personally reach vasculitis patients. “Through this fellowship program, I have the opportunity to receive clinical training from experts in the field and to work on research questions that are of the utmost importance to the vasculitis patient, with a goal of adding meaning, purpose and visibility to the work we do every day,” she said. Dr. Casal Moura is currently training under the guidance of Kenneth J. Warrington, MD, chair in the Division of Rheumatology, Department of Internal Medicine, and in the lab of Ulrich Specks, MD, the principal investigator of laboratory based AAV research studies at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Dr. Casal Moura is also conducting clinical research in AAV with Fernando C. Fervenza, MD, PhD, director of Mayo Clinic’s Nephrology Collaborative Group as part of her fellowship curriculum in addition to lab projects and the basic research publications that will reflect her status as a VCRC-VF fellow.
After completing her medical training in internal medicine at the University Hospital Center of São João in Portugal, Dr. Casal Moura earned a master’s degree and finished a clinical fellowship in autoimmune diseases at the University of Barcelona/Hospital Clinic in Spain. A master’s degree in public health, focusing on epidemiology and biostatistics soon followed at the University of Porto in Portugal, Faculty of Medicine, School of Public Health. Furthermore, Dr. Casal Moura enrolled in the university’s Molecular Medicine and Oncology PhD Program to study immunologic and genetic determinants of ANCA-associated vasculitis. During this time, she completed the United States Medical Licensing Examination and is certified by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates to practice medicine in the U.S.
“What really spurred my interest in vasculitis and research was the fellowship in autoimmune diseases that I did in Barcelona under the supervision of Dr. Maria Cid,” Dr. Casal Moura said. “The early contact with a vasculitis unit where clinical work took place alongside multidisciplinary clinical and basic research brought me an awareness to the field,” she added, “and the fact that both clinical practice and patients benefit from research and vice-versa.” Dr. Casal Moura has found the same spirit with the mentors she has been privileged to work with at the Mayo Clinic.
Since September 2017, Dr. Casal Moura has been a research fellow in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine in the Department of Medicine at Mayo Clinic’s College of Medicine and Science. “I came to the Mayo Clinic to gain expertise in vasculitis research and to perform my PhD experimental work in vasculitis with Dr. Specks,” she said. As a PhD candidate in the molecular medicine and oncology track, she is studying immunologic and genetic determinants of ANCA-associated vasculitis. “I submitted my thesis in November 2022, which encapsulates work from 10 papers in ANCA-associated vasculitis, and I am currently continuing my research while also waiting for my dissertation defense.”
Through her VCRC-VF fellowship training, Dr. Casal Moura would like to be more engaged with the vasculitis community and learn the skills necessary for becoming an independent clinician and researcher. In the future, she would like to pursue a physician-scientist position dedicated to the management of patients with vasculitis, conduct clinical trials, and study immunogenetic determinants of vasculitis.
“It is my privilege to be part of the mentorship team of Dr. Casal Moura who has been exceptionally productive as a research fellow investigating pathomechanisms and treatment outcomes of AAV and large vessel vasculitis,” Dr. Warrington said. “She is a dedicated researcher who has the knowledge and drive to improve our understanding of vasculitis and her work will undoubtedly translate into meaningful benefit for patient care.”
“Dr. Casal Moura is well positioned to become an independent clinician-investigator in vasculitis through her experience as a VCRC-VF fellow, combining mentorship from experts in rheumatology, pulmonology and nephrology,” Dr. Warrington added. “Her broad and thorough exposure to clinical and research facets of all forms of vasculitis at Mayo Clinic with the support of the VCRC-VF fellowship serves as an outstanding foundation for her future career in vasculitis.”
Author: Nina Silberstein