David Pisetsky

The term physician-scientist is one of those compound words that has been created to unite disparate elements. Our language has others: student-athlete, warrior-statesman and player-coach. The hyphen is a convenient way to keep the words together, but the hyphen cannot obscure the inherent contradictions that fight within. At that core, physicians and scientists (just like students and athletes) can be worlds apart. Becoming a physician-scientist demands a union that can take years to forge and is often tenuous and unnerving. The compound words I noted have two interesting features. The first is that each describes a person of action—physician, athlete, warrior, or player—in conjunction with a person of thought—scientist, student, statesman, or coach. The second feature is that the order of the two words seems to matter, and, in all but one case (student-athlete), the action person precedes the thought person.

2 thoughts on “David Pisetsky

  1. shinichi Post author

    David Stephen Pisetsky, MD, PhD


    Professor of Medicine
    Professor of Immunology
    Member of the Duke Cancer Institute
    Member of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute

    Studies in my laboratory concern the immunological properties of DNA as related to two main topics: 1) the induction of anti-DNA responses in systemic lupus erythematosus; and 2) the stimulation of innate immunity by bacterial DNA. These topics are closely linked since we have established novel disease models in which lupus-like illness can be induced in normal mice by bacterial DNA under conditions in which mammalian DNA is inactive. This model has been useful in elucidating mechanisms of DNA antigen drive in autoimmunity.

    To pursue these studies, our laboratory conducts investigations in the following areas: 1) specificity of anti-DNA for epitopes on mammalian and bacterial DNA; 2) molecular analysis of murine mononclonal anti-DNA antibodies; 3) histopathological analyses of DNA-immunized mice; 4) in vitro analysis of proliferation, antibody production and cytokine expression in human and murine immune cells; and 5) analysis of DNA binding to cell surface molecules on B cells, T cells and macrophages. Results of these studies have allowed identification of at least two structural motifs that are immunoactive. We are also exploring the impact of chemical modifications of the DNA backbone.

    In addition to work on the immunology of DNA, I am also involved in clinical trials related to new immunomodulatory agents in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis as well as serological markers of disease activity.

    The areas of research for which I am known nationally are anti-DNA antibodies, systemic lupus erythematosus and immunological properties of DNA. I have written textbook chapters and reviews on all these subjects.


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