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November 13, 2018

Meet the Scholar: Jason Hawkes, M.D.
By Michelle Romanick

Dr. Jason Hawkes joined the Clinical Scholars Program at Rockefeller University in 2016. He received his medical degree from the University of Utah and completed an internship in internal medicine at the University of Washington/Boise VA Medical Center. Dr. Hawkes returned to Utah for his dermatology residency and graduated from the program’s 2+2 Translational Research Track.

Often interest in research stems from early exposure in high school and college or a family member’s career as a clinician and/or researcher, but Dr. Hawkes’s first real research experience was in 2008 at the NIH as part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)-NIH Research Scholars program. He was selected to participate in this program after completing his 2nd year of medical school as he wanted to explore the life of a physician-scientist. He was also contemplating transferring into the MD/PhD program and thought the experience would assist with this decision. At the NIH, Dr. Hawkes became aware of Dr. Steven Rosenberg’s work in treating metastatic melanoma using a person’s own immune cells via a process called adoptive cell transfer. This experience had a profound impact on him and was, ultimately, the reason he pursued dermatology and the research area of treating inflammatory skin conditions with novel biological therapies.

Dr. Hawkes met Dr. James Krueger, Head of Laboratory of Investigative Dermatology at Rockefeller University, when he was in the dermatology research track at the University of Utah. Dr. Hawkes heard Dr. Krueger speak at national meetings and knew Dr. Krueger as one of the leading scientists in the field of psoriasis. Dr. Hawkes invited Dr. Krueger to speak at the University of Utah’s Department of Dermatology Grand Rounds and was tasked with creating a meeting agenda during his visit. Dr. Hawkes took that opportunity to schedule a brief one-on-one meeting with Dr. Krueger to introduce himself and to discuss some of his own psoriasis research and ideas. It was during that meeting that Dr. Krueger invited Dr. Hawkes to consider joining the Clinical Scholars program and to pursue his research ideas in Dr. Krueger’s lab.

Dr. Hawkes is studying an uncommon subtype of “acute” psoriasis called guttate psoriasis in an effort to learn more about the early immune events of this heterogeneous disease. Guttate psoriasis is an eruptive, small plaque variant of psoriasis that typically occurs in adolescents or young healthy adults. It nearly always follows Group A streptococcal pharyngitis. While guttate psoriasis tends to be a self-limited disease, approximately one-third of patients go on to develop plaque psoriasis, highlighting at least some shared biologic and/or genetic influences between the two subtypes. Patients with guttate psoriasis also tend to respond very well to anti-psoriatic medications approved for plaque psoriasis. The primary purpose of his research is to better elucidate the molecular profile and immune cell populations driving guttate psoriasis and better understand its relationship to plaque psoriasis. His pilot study is designed to shed light on the pathophysiology and natural history of psoriasis, thus potentially opening the door to novel therapeutic strategies.

Dr. Hawkes shared his expectation for his experience as a member of the Clinical Scholars program and his experience as Chief Clinical Scholar:

“My primary expectation when I joined the Clinical Scholars program was to have an opportunity to learn the science of psoriasis from Dr. Krueger and to focus on my research interests in an academic environment that is largely protected from the demands of the clinic. I had opportunities to explore human translational and bench-top research activities that were not available to me in Utah, and this has provided me with insights into the types of academic and educational activities that will be most enjoyable and rewarding to me in my future career.

The most important lesson I have learned during my time in the Clinical Scholars program is just how critical the physician’s perspective and insight are for shaping truly meaningful research that improves the human condition. This lesson has helped me focus on research questions that have the potential to directly improve patient care and the development of skills that are complementary to my clinical training.

The most educational aspect of the Clinical Scholars program for me has been an introduction to the conduct of clinical trials and human subjects research. I have been the beneficiary of the broad experiences of the Clinical Scholars program administrators, IRB/ACCTS members, nursing, and Krueger Laboratory staff who have helped me to better understand the scientific and regulatory aspects of conducting clinical trials. With their assistance, I was able to successfully conduct several industry- and investigator-initiated research protocols as the principal investigator and feel confident I could do the same at another institution in the future.”

When asked to describe the Clinical Scholars program in one sentence, Dr. Hawkes’s response was, “A 3-year comprehensive bootcamp learning the skills necessary to conduct meaningful human subject research in an institution with a rich history of scientific discovery.”

Dr. Hawkes will be applying for an academic position in a dermatology department that will allow him to leverage his clinical interests and prior research training to develop an inflammatory skin disease clinic and research program dedicated to uncovering biologic mechanisms and new treatment modalities for these severe skin conditions. He also has an interest in resident and medical student education and hopes to find opportunities to incorporate this interest into his future clinical and research activities.