Laura B. Lewandowski, MD, MS

Assistant Clinical Investigator, National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, National Institutes of Health

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Ask the big questions and pursue the answers with passion and dedication.

What do you do?

I am a clinician scientist who studies an autoimmune disease called lupus. This means I am both a physician who takes care of patients and a scientist who studies the disease in the lab. I am a pediatric rheumatologist and a global health doctor, so my focus is on understanding more about how lupus affects children around the world. My current project is an an international study to understand the genetics of lupus. I love the “bench to bedside” aspect of my job, seeing patients in clinic and trying to understand more about their disease in the lab, hopefully to bring something back to clinic which could improve their health. 

Why did you choose this field?

I wanted to become a doctor from a very young age. My mother worked in a hospital and I saw doctors taking care of people and knew that was what I wanted to do. Before I went to medical school I had the chance to do basic science research in RNA, and my PI gave me ownership over my project. Having that amazing experience early on really cultivated a deep scientific curiosity which has continued to drive my work. During medical school, I worked in Ecuador for a month helping to care for children with congenital heart disease, and that was the when I fell head over heels for international medical work. Finally, I felt called to care for lupus patients early in my career as a doctor, when I realized how severe the disease is for young people, and how few medications we currently have to manage this devastating disease.
During my fellowship, I moved to South Africa for two years to establish a cohort of childhood onset lupus patients, as there was so little known about pediatric lupus in Africa. 5 years later, we have nearly 200 patients and continue to learn so much about the manifestations and management of their disease from this work. I have been lucky to work with great collaborators in South Africa to build infrastructure which allows important research to continue on an understudied and underserved population.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

During my fellowship, I moved to South Africa for two years to establish a cohort of childhood onset lupus patients, as there was so little known about pediatric lupus in Africa. 5 years later, we have nearly 200 patients and continue to learn so much about the manifestations and management of their disease from this work. I have been lucky to work with great collaborators in South Africa to build infrastructure which allows important research to continue on an understudied and underserved population.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I would say the best parts of my job are the bonds I form with patients and families, the constant challenge of scientific research, and collaborations with colleagues around the world. Science is a rapidly evolving field, so you are learning and growing every day. I love sitting with a complex problem and working to solve it. It takes patience and perseverance but the reward of getting to the solution feels so amazing.

Best advice for next generation?

For young girls today, I would tell them that science is for you. There are so many voices out there that overtly or subtly will try to dissuade you from pursuing this path. You don’t need to fit into anyone’s mold for a science career. Everyone makes mistakes and has setbacks- it is part of the process. Ask the big questions and pursue the answers with passion and dedication.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

A fun fact about me is that while working in South Africa I learned to speak isiXhosa, one of the 11 official languages, and spoken by about 8 million people there. isiXhosa is an African “click” language and so fun to speak!

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