They were two strangers who shared a vision to improve the quality of life for people living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Today, though they live hundreds of miles apart from each other and have never met, Allison B. Reiss, MD, and Dan Daniell of Fayetteville, Georgia, have grown to be dear friends.
“I am so thankful for Dr. Reiss’ friendship and the research that she is doing – I just know it’s going to help people in the future,” said Mr. Daniell, a retired Lieutenant Colonel who served in the United States Air Force for 24 years.
As he was recently thumbing through the pages of a publication from The Arthritis Foundation, Mr. Daniell came across an article about Dr. Reiss and her research on RA, pain management, and the associated increased risks for cardiovascular disease and heart attack.
Next to painting, Elizabeth Daniell’s favorite pastime was wading in the surf.
“The goal of my research program is to predict which RA patients are most vulnerable to developing heart disease so that we can target appropriate preventative and treatment measures to improve the quality of life for these individuals,” said Dr. Reiss, who is Head of the Inflammation Section of the NYU Winthrop Research Institute. Dr. Reiss is a widely published leader in the field of arthritis research, who presents her research findings at numerous prestigious national meetings each year.
Dr. Reiss’ research goals strongly resonated with Mr. Daniell, whose wife, Elizabeth, suffered with severe RA for many years and passed away suddenly in 2007 after going into cardiac arrest. But as Mr. Daniell recalls, his wife never complained about the pain she was in nor did she let it keep her from doing what she enjoyed most – painting.
Elizabeth Daniell’s painting of an old synagogue in Savannah, GA.
Elizabeth’s interest in painting was piqued over 30 years ago during a demonstration at the Officers’ Wives’ Club while she and Mr. Daniell were stationed in Tacoma, Washington. It wasn’t long before she was entering local painting contests and winning awards for her oil and watercolor paintings.
“She painted realism, impressionism and combinations of the two,” said Mr. Daniell. “I usually liked the combinations the best.”
But in her later years, Elizabeth’s RA worsened, particularly in her wrists and hands, and she endured several surgeries to alleviate the pain. Just two years before she passed, Elizabeth was also diagnosed with a rare condition known as costochondritis – an inflammation of the cartilage connecting the rib to the breastbone which causes severe, sharp chest pain. There is currently no treatment for the condition.
“I initially contacted Dr. Reiss to share with her some details of my wife’s experience and to see if she knew of any organizations that were doing research on costochondritis,” said Mr. Daniell. “We quickly became pen pals; Dr. Reiss expressed her great kindness and sympathy towards me, and I learned more about the important research that she is doing to make pain medications safer. That’s when I decided to establish a fund in memory of my wife.”
The Elizabeth Daniell Research Fund was established to support the work of Dr. Reiss and her studies on heart disease and arthritis pain. Dr. Reiss’ research focuses on the specific inflammatory components present in the circulatory systems of patients with autoimmune diseases that impair cholesterol meta - bolism and allow lipid accumulation in the artery, where it can lead to obstruction and heart attack. One aspect of Dr. Reiss and her team’s work that holds particular promise for life-changing results is their finding that a naturally occurring substance in the blood known as adenosine has the ability to restore normal cholesterol metabolism even in the presence of inflammatory conditions. The team – which includes Iryna Voloshyna, PhD, Michael Littlefield, BA, and Steven Carsons, MD, – is investigating adenosine and related compounds in order to understand how they accomplish this beneficial effect so that they can ultimately improve the medical treatment of cardiovascular disease in patients with RA.
The important research initiatives of (l.-r.) Iryna Voloshyna, PhD; Allison Reiss, MD; Michael Littlefield, BA; and Steven Carsons, MD, (not pictured) are helping to make strides in understanding the relationship between cardiovascular disease and arthritis pain, thanks in part to support from The Elizabeth Daniell Research Fund.
The Elizabeth Daniell Research Fund, established by Mr. Daniell, is open to public contributions as well. It is the hope of both Mr. Daniell and Dr. Reiss that out of loss, something good can come.
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“Mr. Daniell wants to give his wife a legacy,” said Dr. Reiss. “I share his goals and am working diligently on making pain medications safer so that future generations can have a better quality of life.”
Mr. Daniell’s commitment to honoring his wife’s memory stretches beyond the work that he is supporting at NYU Winthrop. He has also been a faithful supporter of the work of The Arthritis Foundation and recently championed a building project at his church, a longtime dream that he and Elizabeth shared as its charter members. On display in the new church narthex are some of Elizabeth’s paintings, which Mr. Daniell continues to change to coincide with the season.
“I still enjoy my wife’s paintings and miss her very much,” said Mr. Daniell. “But I’m sure she’s smiling down from heaven knowing that the work that’s being done in her name will someday help others.”
Under the leadership and with the full support of Michael S. Niederman, MD, Chairman of the Department of Medicine at NYU Winthrop, and Alan Jacobson, MD, NYU Winthrop’s Chief Research Officer, Dr. Reiss and her team are collaborating on several research initiatives. The overall objectives of their research program are threefold:
- To understand the mechanisms underlying the increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease seen in persons with the autoimmune disorders rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, lupus).
- To understand why pain-relieving medications that work through cyclo-oxygenase (COX) inhibition elevate the risk of cardiovascular events including myocardial infarction and stroke. This class of drugs, which includes specific inhibitors of COX-2 as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, is widely used across the United States and around the world. Two members of the COX-2 group, rofecoxib and valdecoxib, were withdrawn from the market starting in 2004.
- To develop therapeutic strategies to prevent and treat the accelerated atherosclerosis that occurs in rheumatic diseases and with prolonged use of COX inhibitors.
Dr. Reiss and her team are grateful for the support of Mr. Daniell, The Arthritis Foundation, and se veral other national organizations which have helped make their research possible.