When Susan Manzi was a medical school student, she became interested in the immune system and how, in certain diseases, the system turns on the body and causes autoimmunity.
For that reason - and because it primarily targets women age 15 to 45 - lupus caught her attention.
"It is a potentially fatal disease, and I found it fascinating, and decided to dedicate my life to these patients and help to find a cure," she said of lupus, one of the most complex autoimmune diseases.
Earlier this month, Dr. Manzi, co-founder and co-director of the Lupus Center of Excellence and chairwoman of the Department of Medicine of the West Penn Allegheny Health System, was presented with the Clinical Practice Award from the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American College of Physicians in recognition of her exceptional service to patients, community and profession.
The presentation was made at the chapter's annual awards dinner in Hershey.
Dr. Manzi is internationally recognized as a leader in lupus patient care and research and as a pioneer in the scientific investigation of cardiovascular disease in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus, or lupus.
"Providing the best possible care for my patients and serving as an advocate for them in the fight against lupus is my ultimate goal," she said.
As a child, Dr. Manzi enjoyed mathematics and science and dreamed of becoming a scientist.
Her parents, who were children of Italian immigrants, encouraged her scholarship.
"My dad owned an Italian grocery store. He and my mother were passionate about their kids' education," she said.
Dr. Manzi graduated magna cum laude from the University of Notre Dame, where she was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Epsilon Delta honor societies.
At the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, she was elected to Alpha Omega Alpha, the national medical honor society, and received the Jack Myers Medical Alumni Award for excellence in exemplifying medical ideals.
Dr. Manzi completed her medical internship and residency at Duke University Medical Center, and her subsequent fellowship in rheumatology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Lupis is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and damage to parts of the body, including skin, joints and kidneys.
The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that more than 1.5 million Americans have some form of the disease. Dr. Manzi is a member of the foundation's board of directors and medical advisory committee.
Since its establishment in 2001, the lupus center has cared for patients from 35 states and 13 countries.
"We see patients from all over the world who come for a second opinion as to whether the diagnosis is accurate and how to treat it," Dr. Manzi said.
Dr. Manzi said one of the most difficult aspects of diagnosing and managing lupus is that no two patients' symptoms are exactly alike.
"It can be as simple as a skin rash to as devastating as kidney failure, stroke, heart attack, and everything in between," she said. "So it is very hard to identify the most common signs or symptoms."
Lupus is far more common among women than men and it especially targets Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans.
While no one knows what causes lupus, a combination of genetics and environmental triggers is involved.
Dr. Manzi and her colleagues in the Lupus Center of Excellence, with its main site in West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield, helped design a new blood test to enable clinicians to diagnose lupus with greater ease and accuracy.
The Avise-SLE test, which became commercially available this year, uses one blood sample from a patient to check for five distinct bio-markers that help to rule in the diagnosis of lupus while ruling out other rheumatic diseases.
Dr. Manzi said the plan for the not-so-distant future is to expand the Lupus Center of Excellence into an institute that focuses on autoimmune diseases, of which lupus will be a part.
"We are extending research into trying to understand autoimmunity, and opening the center to anyone with an autoimmune disease," she said. "We hope to have it within the next year."
Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.