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/ Categories: Strides in Science

November 2018 – Katherine Morland Hammitt

Katherine Hammitt is Vice President of Scientific & Medical Affairs for the Sjögren’s Foundation (SF) as well as a member of the AADR Board of Directors as the Patient Advocacy Representative. In her role as Chair of the FNIDCR Patient Advocacy Council, Kathy leads 33 member organizations with Co-chair Mary Fete to add the patient advocates’ voice to the work of the AADR and NIDCR and to ensure the patient voice is heard in research.

At the SF, Kathy oversees key research and medical initiatives to increase knowledge about Sjögren’s, improve the exchange of ideas to accelerate research and set the stage for better treatment and management of Sjögren’s. To accomplish these goals, Kathy oversees the development of the first-ever Clinical Practice Guidelines in Sjögren’s and co-leads the Foundation’s international Clinical Trials Consortium. Kathy also created and serves Founding and Executive Editor of the SF’s Sjögren’s Quarterly, a major resource for healthcare professionals and the only publication covering all clinical, scientific and research aspects of Sjögren’s. In addition, Kathy is an Associate Editor of The Sjögren’s Book and author or co-author of text book chapters on autoimmune disease and Sjögren’s, CME programs and articles for medical and scientific journal publications on Sjögren’s. She also is co-author of The Sjögren’s Syndrome Survival Guide, a book designed to help patients better understand their disease, how to live with it and take control of their lives.

Kathy also brings a special passion to her position at the SF as a Sjögren’s patient herself. After being diagnosed with Sjögren’s nearly 30 years ago, Kathy became an ardent advocate for change and believes in empowering patients to take an active role in their illness and bringing the international community together to create a brighter future for those who suffer from Sjögren’s. A former television news producer and writer in Washington, D.C., Hammitt holds an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and graduated from the Publishing Procedures Graduate Certificate Program, Radcliffe College and Harvard University.

How did you first learn about AADR and what motivated you to join?
I am currently on the AADR Board of Directors as the Patient Advocate Representative and I am the Vice President of Medical & Scientific Affairs of the Sjögren's Foundation (SF). Sjögren's is a systemic autoimmune disease that affects the entire body. Along with symptoms of extensive dryness, other serious complications include profound fatigue, chronic pain, major organ involvement, neuropathies and lymphomas. The disease attacks all of the moisture producing glands. When you think of how much of our body contains moisture you realize how devastating this disease can be. You may not think dry mouth sounds that bad but if you don’t produce enough saliva to help you chew, swallow and digest your food, that becomes a major problem.

With the SF I have served in many capacities since my diagnosis but I am most passionate about research. Knowing that good research is being done is the only thing that gives us hope as patients. My focus has been on making sure research funding is there and that we don’t lose researchers.

I first learned about the AADR when I started working with the NIH and the NIDCR to advocate for Sjögren’s research. I saw first-hand how important the NIH and the NIDCR are in insuring that dental, oral and craniofacial research is supported. I was invited to join the Board of Directors for the FNIDCR when it was in its early stages. I have found it so inspiring to meet with those who encourage and support research and those who are working in the trenches doing the research that will ultimately lead to better lives for patients.

As part of the FNIDCR I interacted frequently with AADR, which not only supports the NIDCR but focuses on bringing researchers together, ensuring awareness and education via the AADR’s journals, conferences and networking opportunities. I am so grateful for all of these groups and for the critical role that AADR plays.

What do you find to be the most valuable benefit of AADR membership?
The AADR catalyzes greater interest in oral-related research. I can’t imagine where we’d be in the Sjögren’s community without AADR and the NIDCR. For me personally, my AADR membership means that I am part of that special community of researchers and those who help support research. The AADR brings together various groups through the Friends of NIDCR Patient Advocacy Council and because of that we can connect, learn from each other, interact with the NIDCR and become aware of the work being done at the NIDCR and NIH.

What do you want to see in the future for AADR?
We are in a new age that is beginning to recognize how important oral health is to health as a whole. Members of the FNIDCR Patient Advocacy Council all support conditions that have a major oral competent, but many are systemic diseases so we need to recognize that AADR’s role reaches beyond one body organ to encompass so much more: From autoimmune disease to oncology to genetics to tissue engineering and immunology. I truly believe that the AADR can be pivotal to bringing specialists from diverse areas together to look at complex systems and diseases.

The AADR already does many good things, and I think as we enter the future, AADR will play an even more critical role in the collaboration that will be necessary for progress. One thing about research that has always struck me is how important collaboration is to making major strides in science. We are seeing more collaboration than ever before as technology grows, and that technology enables collaboration all around the world. This is fueling the trend away from working in silos and more toward working together and sharing information. This trend is also driven by the AADR by connecting U.S. and international researchers via IADR and AADR meetings, journals, the website and social media. The collaboration that AADR supports will be critical for the future.

What is the best way for other members to become more involved in AADR?
From the perspective of the FNIDCR Patient Advocacy Council, I encourage any non-profit organization that supports a condition with a major oral component to join us in our fight for more research and greater education and awareness. We have a better chance of being heard with many voices. The FNIDCR Patient Advocacy Council is a great group for involvement, and it is good that various stakeholders in oral research are interacting and working together. The patient voice brings a more personal perspective to research. Without patients’ stories, I don’t think people truly understand how lives can be affected for the better by research. Without research, there would be no hope.

Why did you get involved with the FNIDCR Patient Advocacy Council? What impact do you think the FNIDCR Patient Advocacy Council can have on research and on the lives of individuals?
The purpose of the FNIDCR Patient Advocacy Council is to support oral health research, the NIDCR and to support transfer of oral health research from bench to bedside. Right now, the FNIDCR Patient Advocacy Council is 33 organizations strong — that is a lot of voices. Those voices include those with craniofacial issues, head and neck cancer, autoimmune diseases, genetic disorders etc. We are the personal voice that demonstrates the wide breadth of conditions impacted and improved by oral research.

Our breadth of experiences and expertise with patients and their families represent a wide range of conditions and diseases. This enables us to learn from each other, share our initiatives and strategize about the best ways to increase awareness and education, to ensure that clinicians and researchers recognize special-needs groups.

Opportunities that AADR provides such as exhibiting at AADR meetings and the Annual AADR Advocacy Day, where we share our stories with Congress and staffers, allow us to add the personal story to what an oral health researcher brings to the table. If researchers are familiar with our conditions and causes, then they might be able to see pathways that cross one or more of us. It’s important for researchers, as well as the public, to understand the incredible impact their research can have on all of us.

None of us dreams of becoming ill, becoming a burden to others, and facing the life changing repercussions a disease brings. But all of us share the hope that better treatment, and even a cure, is possible based on research advances.

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