Introducing Dr. Felipe Andrade
If we can confirm or discard a role of proteinase 3 in Wegener’s, that would be a big step in understanding this disease.
–Felipe Andrade, Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Rheumatology
Even as a child, Felipe Andrade wanted to be a doctor. “I knew I would be a doctor from age 5 or 6, but I have no idea why,” laughs Andrade, the son of a tailor and a homemaker. “I used to work with my father a lot, and I learned a lot of things – I’m very good at ironing. I know well the anatomy of clothes. I’m good on the sewing machine, and even hand-sewing.” But despite these talents, he was set on a career in medicine.
“When I was young, I thought about being a doctor because you see doctors and they’re always nice and helpful,” he recalls. “Then you grow up and see diseases and become interested in treating them and the people who have them.”
In the Clinic
And so began his journey to become a clinician. Andrade earned his MD from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He remained in Mexico City to complete his internal medicine training at the National Medical Center, and his rheumatology training at the National Institute of Nutrition. Later, he earned his doctorate at Johns Hopkins University, where he is now an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Rheumatology.
“As a clinician, the most rewarding is to interact with patients, but the worst part is that you can’t offer them something else when the treatments don’t work,” he says.
At the Bench
The desire to pioneer new diagnostics and therapies took him out of the clinic and into the lab five years ago. “Now that I’m doing bench work, I like the possibility that I might be able to find something to help patients to feel better. They need an opportunity to be cured and I can work toward that.”
Andrade’s research centers on an assay commonly used to diagnose Wegener’s (WG): antineutrophil cytoplasmic autoantibodies (ANCA) that recognize human proteinase 3 (PR3) of neutrophil granules. “Understanding their pathogenic role in vivo is a high priority,” he says. “They may be more than markers.”
His research team hopes to find out if human PR3 actually plays a role in the development of WG. This is done using “knock-in mice”, so called because their own PR3 was removed and replaced with human PR3. This enables the test mice to express human PR3, and allows researchers to see if WG develops in the presence of anti-human PR3-ANCAS. Initial funding was from The Lowe Family Scholars program. Recently the VF awarded Andrade a $75,000 grant to continue his research. “If projects like this work,” he says, “it will be amazing.”
On the Horizon
“Supporting the VF is so important because these are diseases which are not so frequent, so it’s hard to find a big institution that will support research,” he asserts. “The VF is the one who’s going to support those projects that are risky, less certain, but also have a high ‘risk’ of success. The VF is giving the basis for many investigators to start with new ideas. Otherwise we’d never be supported.”
Andrade is excited about the possibilities the funding gives him – and WG patients.
“As a researcher, I think there’s a solution for any problem — even a very bad, horrible disease like Wegeners – you just need to find it,” he asserts. “We’ll find a solution. It’s there. But if you don’t look and work for it, you won’t find it. I might be able to do something. This is my beginning.”