Sara E. Walker, M.D., a specialist in rheumatology, studies the chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), commonly known as lupus. Her investigations have found a link between certain hormones and lupus, a disease nine times more common in women than in men. Dr. Walker is the immediate past president of the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine (ACP-ASIM).
Born in 1939 in the east Texas town of Navasota, Sara Walker grew up twenty miles down the road in Hempstead. Called Six-shooter Junction through the early decades of the 20th century for the violent settlement of local disputes, Hempstead by the 1940s was a settled commercial town of 1,500 on the Southern Pacific railroad line, its economy sustained by produce shipping, truck hauling, and the nearby Raccoon Bend oilfield.
Sara Walker's father, Dr. Sidney Columbus Walker, practiced medicine in Hempstead for decades. Inspired by him, she studied pre-med at the University of Texas, Austin, after graduating from Hempstead High School in 1957. In 1960 she graduated from University of Texas with honors, and went on to the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, where her father had received his doctor of medicine degree in 1929. Graduating in 1964, Dr. Walker continued her training at the Philadelphia General Hospital before returning to Texas as a resident in internal medicine at Baylor College of Medicine Affiliated Hospitals in Houston.
Dr. Walker's career in rheumatology began in 1968 at the Rackham Arthritis Research Unit at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she competed a research fellowship and continued as a special fellow, supported by the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases. Board certified in internal medicine and rheumatology, she taught at the University Hospital, rising through the ranks to become associate professor of internal medicine.
In 1980, Dr. Walker, her husband Dr. Donald Kay and their son Thomas moved to Missouri, where she took up a position on the School of Medicine faculty at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She now serves as professor of internal medicine at University of Missouri-Columbia, holding joint appointments in laboratory animal medicine and the graduate school. She sees patients regularly and conducts research on autoimmune diseases, in particular systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), or lupus. Her funded research includes awards from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Education. She has published more than 100 research and clinical articles in peer-reviewed journals, as well as many reviews, book chapters, and abstracts.
Dr. Walker has conducted groundbreaking studies of the influences of hormones on lupus. She has found a relationship between prolactin, the hormone that stimulates lactation in childbearing women, and the production of harmful antibodies that target healthy cells and tissues. Through laboratory experiments with mice and in human clinical trials, Dr. Walker discovered that bromocriptine, a drug used to suppress secretion of prolactin in other diseases, reduces lupus disease activity. She also investigates whether women may be at risk for autoimmune disease because they have too little testosterone. Dr. Walker is also studying the association of rheumatoid arthritis and depression, and is developing a model curriculum for heath care professionals treating people with arthritis.
Dr. Walker serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology and Neuroimmune Biology. In 1973 she became a Fellow of the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine (ACP-ASIM). She served as the organization's governor for Missouri from 1991 to 1995, when she was honored with the ACP Laureate Award. In recognition of her contributions as a teacher, researcher, and mentor, she was elected Master (MACP) in 1996. A Regent since 1996, she was elected president of the organization in 2002.
The ACP-ASIM is the nation's largest medical specialty society, with a membership of more than 115,000. As the organization's president, Dr. Walker led efforts to shape federal health-related legislation and administrative decisions. With a goal of improving health care for all Americans, she supported the drive to report medical errors, opposed cuts in doctors' Medicare fees, and supported visa waivers for international medical graduates placed in underserved areas.