At the laboratory she directs, Dr. Denise Faustman and her colleagues investigate autoimmune diseases, with a specific focus on women patients. Dr. Faustman invented the concept of producing genetically engineered pigs as transplantation donors, identified two biological pathways that allow treatment of autoimmunity, and identified a new mutation that may explain some of the differences between the ways men and women experience the same diseases.
Born in Royal Oak, Michigan, in 1958, Denise Faustman earned her bachelor of science degree in zoology and chemistry, with highest honors, from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 1978. She received her Ph.D. in 1982 in transplantation immunology, and earned her M.D. in 1985 from Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis, Missouri. Her internship and residency in medicine were both at Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital, where she is currently director of the Immunobiology Laboratory. Faustman has also been associated with Harvard Medical School since 1987, when she was a research associate. She has been an associate professor of medicine there since 1996.
Denise Faustman's thesis, "Transplantation without Immunosuppression," signaled her approach to new areas of scientific research with significant long-term implications. Where the traditional approach to the problem of transplant rejection had been to address the recipient's immune response, Dr. Faustman reversed the perspective and theorized that modifying the donor cells, instead, might avoid triggering rejection.
In the study she led at the immunobiology lab at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Faustman and her colleaguess at Massachusetts General Hospital "cured" laboratory mice of Type 1 diabetes with a forty-day course of injections with a drug called CFA, which prompts the body to produce a molecule that triggers the immune system and, in turn, tells the autoimmune cells to effectively kill themselves. The mice that were purged of autoimmune cells quickly re-grew islet cells in the pancreas, which then began to produce insulin. Though the treatment is not ready for use in human patients, it may eventually help with a wide range of autoimmune conditions, in addition to Type 1 or juvenile diabetes.
Dr. Faustman is senior editor of the Journal of Women's Health. She and Marianne J. Legato, M.D., editor-in-chief of the Journal of Gender-Specific Medicine, have taken the lead in drafting guidelines for the study of diseases in men and women, to explore the different ways they are affected by the same illness, and medical treatments. Dr. Faustman is a founding member of the Cell Transplant Society, a co-founding member of Diabetes Research International Network, and a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Among her many awards are the Lily Foundation Award for novel research in auto-immunity and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine Award in 2000.