Kahlenberg’s work in immunology earns national accolades

Press Staff Writer

        An important aspect of Dr. Michelle Kahlenberg’s career has been training future immunologists and physician scientists.
        “Mentoring the next generation is one of the most satisfying aspects of my job,” says Dr. Kahlenberg. “There is a great need to grow translational and physician scientists as they are the intermediaries between the clinic and the research. When you find a person that has the right combination of interest and drive, they have to be nurtured and protected to allow the proper skill sets to grow.”
        Dr. Kahlenberg was an integral part of the establishment of a national mentorship program for academic rheumatologists through the American College of Rheumatology. She now serves as Associate Chief of Basic and Translational Research for the Division of Rheumatology to further guide and impact the research for patients with rheumatic diseases.
        “After doing my Ph.D. in inflammatory mechanisms, I realized that a lot of the science I had been working on could be applied in rheumatic diseases, a field where treatments were limited,” says Dr. Kahlenberg. “Even today, there are many unanswered questions regarding the science behind the diseases and how to best care for our patients.”
        Dr. Kahlenberg has received top awards for her residency and fellowship work. She spent 13 years of her life in training after finishing college to gather the skills necessary for success in her field.
  Dr. Kahlenberg is to be inducted into the Eastwood Alumni Association’s Eagle Way Hall of Fame this fall.
        She joined the University of Michigan faculty in 2011, was appointed assistant professor in 2012, and was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 2018. She has been running her own laboratory and participating as an active member of the Immunology Training Program since 2013.
        The Kahlenberg Laboratory is focused on understanding systemic lupus erythematosus, a devastating autoimmune disease that results in inflammation in many organs including the skin and kidney. Since 2013, Dr. Kahlenberg’s work has continuously been recognized by the National Institutes of Health.
        Her work has received institutional accolades and national recognition from the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the Lupus Foundation of America, and the U.S. Government through the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.
        In 2019 Dr. Kahlenberg was the inaugural recipient of the Giles G. Bole, M.D. and Dorothy Mulkey, M.D., Research Professorship in Rheumatology at the University of Michigan.
        “Globally, I am interested in understanding how the innate immune system impacts the development of autoimmune diseases and their subsequent complications. Specifically, I am interested in mechanisms by which innate immunity is dysregulated in autoimmune disease and how this can influence the development of disease flares. I have a strong background in inflammasome and interferon biology, and I have focused my research on how these pathways impact systemic lupus and other diseases,” Dr. Kahlenberg said.
        “We utilize translational (analysis of human samples) and basic (murine models) to generate this understanding. My ultimate goals are to use the knowledge we gain to prevent patients with a pre-disposition for autoimmunity from getting sick and to develop novel and less toxic therapies when illness strikes.
        “My clinical interests center around my research interests with a focus on sick patients that are unable to find answers or care in traditional outpatient settings. I continue to hone two areas of clinical expertise,” Dr. Kahlenberg continued.
        “The first is treating patients with dysregulated innate immunity, such is seen in auto-inflammatory diseases such as TRAPS, FCAS, and FMF. These disorders have dysfunctional inflammasomes and are treated with novel IL-1 blockade drugs. Secondly, I treat complicated lupus patients, especially those with refractory skin disease. Both of these patient populations benefit from my research experience and also contribute to our research work. This complementary approach allows me to ask and answer novel clinical and translational questions,” she said.
        Dr. Kahlenberg is a 1994 graduate of Eastwood High School. She grew up on a farm located on Sugar Ridge Road and learned the value of hard work from her parents, John and Betty. She says the wide variety of activities she was able to participate in during her time at Eastwood, including high school musicals, volleyball, basketball and track, taught her the importance of finding time to do what you enjoy and the value of teamwork and mentorship.
        In her spare time, she enjoys organic gardening and working on her own family farm, EMMA Acres, run by her husband, Mark, and spending time with her husband and children, Adyn and Emerson.
        “My husband and I wanted to live in an area with opportunities for grass-fed farming and stellar biomedical research. The University of Michigan and Ann Arbor is the perfect spot for us,” she said.
        Dr. Kahlenberg was valedictorian of her Eastwood High School Class. She completed her undergraduate education at Denison University – a small liberal arts college in Granville, Ohio – where she majored in biology; she graduated summa cum laude and as class valedictorian in 1998.
        She attended Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine where she earned her M.D. and Ph.D. in molecular mechanisms of disease. Following her graduate studies, she trained in internal medicine at University Hospitals of Cleveland and then pursued a fellowship in rheumatology at the University of Michigan.
        She will be inducted into the Eagle Way HOF as a noteworthy alumna. She will join the Frobose family (community contributors), Jim Welling (noteworthy alumni and coach) and James Opelt (community contributor and noteworthy alumni) in the hall’s Class of 2021.      
        Dr. Kahlenberg was nominated by Linda Dunmyer and Kathy Loomis.
        The Eagle Way Hall of Fame induction banquet is set for Sept. 25 at the Pemberville American Legion. Tickets for the banquet, which are $25 for the chicken or steak dinner and festivities, are on sale at the Pemberville Library, at the high school office, or from the officers and members listed at EastwoodSchools.org and click on Eastwood Alumni Association.


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