Meet the Researcher: Peter A. Merkel, MD, MPH Chief of Rheumatology at the University of Pennsylvania

(reprinted with permission of the Vasculitis Foundation)

In January, 2013, Peter Merkel became the head of the division of adult rheumatology at one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. It was a homecoming of sorts for the physician and researcher, who did his medical residency at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP). 

Merkel, the former founder and director of the Boston University Vasculitis Center, is excited about the new opportunity. “I’m looking forward to continuing my clinical and research activities in vasculitis and helping a rheumatology division at a great medical center continue to thrive and grow,” he says. He will direct clinical, teaching, and research activities at HUP, PennPresbyterian Hospital, and the Philadelphia VA Hospital.

His immediate priority: opening a vasculitis program and other special programs in rheumatology. “This is a large metropolitan area and we’ll be conducting a variety of research projects and seeing patients in consultation,” Merkel notes. “We’ll be leveraging the vast intellectual resources of the University of Pennsylvania to go forward with innovative research.”

Continuing to Lead

The Yale-educated Merkel focuses his research on vasculitis, , including clinical trial design and implementation, outcome measures development, biomarker discovery, and genetic epidemiology. He’s also very interested in identifying highly targeted therapies. 

He will continue to serve as principal investigator and director of the Vasculitis Clinical Research Consortium (VCRC). And with his new appointment, the University of Pennsylvania becomes the coordinating center of the VCRC. 

“All the VCRC’s activities will continue uninterrupted -- clinical trials, longitudinal studies, registry studies,” he says. “And we have plans for new international studies to launch soon.”

Following the Path

Even growing up in New York, Merkel knew he would be a doctor. “At least since I was six,” he admits. “Being a physician is just who I am. I always loved the idea of helping people, and as I matured I found the science of it fascinating. But it’s really the people that inspire me.”

But if he weren’t a physician, Merkel would like to be a professional baseball player. “I see myself as a pitcher – a starting pitcher,” he laughs. “But I came to the realization early in life that that opportunity not only passed me by but never really existed.” 

The son of an elementary school teacher and a businessman, Merkel taught high school for a year before entering medical school. Teaching remains an important aspect of his work. 

“I’m encouraged by my ability to strongly influence the development of new faculty members and trainees,” he says. “It’s rewarding to do that as an educator and researcher. Of course, my hope is that some of those students will specialize in vasculitis. That’s important so more people know how to diagnose vasculitis earlier and treat people properly.”


Note by Jane Dion, Director CSSA

The Churg Strauss Syndrome Association would not exist if not for the encouragement and support of Dr. Merkel. Dr. Merkel feels strongly about close partnerships between researchers and patient organizations. Patient organizations play an important role in the VCRC with representatives attending steering committee meetings. In addition, Dr. Merkel is working closely with the VF on the upcoming Patient Symposium to be held in Philadelphia in July. It will be a good time for his former Boston patients, who miss him very much, to be in touch with him again.


Bio

Born: New York, NY

Undergraduate Degree: Wesleyan University

Graduate School: Harvard University

Medical School: Yale University

Medical Residency: Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia 

Fellowship: Rheumatology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston 

Research Interests: Vasculitis, scleroderma, and highly targeted therapies

 

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