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Division of Hepatology, assistant professor of medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine
Executive director Autoimmune Hepatitis AssociationVIEW PROFILE
Craig Lammert, M.D. (GI ’13, CTSA ’15), tries to replicate the culture he observed during fellowship at Mayo Clinic at Indiana University, where he’s a hepatologist. At Mayo Clinic, he saw how the needs of the patient were front and center, so he started a nonprofit organization, the Autoimmune Hepatitis Association, to provide education and support for patients with this rare disease. The Autoimmune Hepatitis Association holds a biennial patient education conference that serves another purpose — allowing patients to participate in Dr. Lammert’s research and provide him with samples. “The organization started as a Facebook group to connect patients with this rare disease, and we now have 1,500 members and the largest gathering of patients with the disease in North America.”
“Mayo Clinic changed me and my approach to patients and made me a better physician. Mayo Clinic creates a culture that doesn’t exist at a lot of other places. From scheduling to follow-up, there are no weak links in the care at Mayo.”
As a second-year medical student at Indiana University School of Medicine, I had a mentor who is a hepatologist who saw potential in me as a clinical investigator. There aren’t a lot of hepatologists in Indiana. I always planned to return here to practice after training because my family is here.
The liver is complex and challenging. It has more than 100 functions. You can’t live without it. I figured if I could understand the liver, I could understand anything.
I wanted the best training available, and Mayo was an easy choice for my fellowship after completing my residency at Emory University in Atlanta. My wife and I spent three and a half years in Rochester, where our first child was born.
I completed a GI fellowship and master’s degree in clinical and translational science at Mayo Clinic and fell in love with the Mayo system, patients and staff. Mayo Clinic changed me and my approach to patients and made me a better physician. Mayo Clinic creates a culture that doesn’t exist at a lot of other places. From scheduling to follow-up, there are no weak links in the care at Mayo. Back at Indiana University, I try to recreate that culture, with the patient coming first as the ideal.
People ask if Mayo Clinic is as great as everyone says it is. I tell them yes, it is. When patients ask for a second opinion, I offer referrals to Mayo Clinic and tell them how great the system is and how quickly things get done.
I’m a clinician-investigator, which unfortunately involves a lot of rejection. My mentors at Mayo Clinic imparted the importance of never giving up. Konstantinos Lazaridis, M.D. (I ’96, GI ’00, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology), Greg Gores, M.D. (I ’83, GI ’86, Executive Dean for Research), and Vijay Shah, M.D. (GI ’98, chair, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology), taught me that an investigator needs to be able to take it on the chin and keep going back for more. The clinical research arm at Mayo instilled grit in me — never give up on research grants or papers. I learned that world experts get rejections, too. This is what you have to do: you get rejections and need to keep generating ideas. It’s humanizing.
The first year after training is challenging. You second-guess yourself a lot. It’s tough when you leave your center of support and have to rely completely on your training. Then you realize there’s a reason you trained at a top-notch institution. Now you have to live what you learned.
The Division of Hepatology at Indiana University is the only liver program in the state. I serve weekly as an attending hepatologist in an outpatient hepatology clinic, and serve as a tertiary care consultant, providing care for patients from all over Indiana. For eight weeks a year, I serve on the inpatient hepatology consult service at University Hospital, caring for patients with acute and chronic liver diseases.
I helped launch a successful telemedicine program to ease the geographic and financial constraints among liver patients.
My research focus is autoimmune hepatitis, a rare liver disease. With funding from the National Institutes of Health, I’m studying the genetic and environmental underpinnings of the disease.
Yes. Konstantinos Lazaridis, M.D. (I ’96, GI ’00, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology), is my go-to collaborator. He coordinate patient recruitment for my studies and has been a tremendous ongoing mentor. Mayo Clinic provides us with samples, and we continue to collaborate with their work.
At Mayo Clinic, I was taught to think differently about research. I studied other rare liver diseases at Mayo. In the process, I saw the vigor and zeal of patients who were seeking community and wanted to be connected by their rare diseases. I also saw the importance of patient education. Quality consumer information about autoimmune hepatitis is difficult to find.
As a clinician fresh from Mayo Clinic, I felt it was my duty to advocate for these patients and families and help them become part of their own care team. I coordinated the establishment of the Autoimmune Hepatitis Association in 2014 to serve patients and families affected by the disease. We started as a Facebook group, connecting patients with the latest in research and information about evidence-based treatment options.
We developed into a nonprofit with a mission to support and educate patients. We provide disease education through a website and online and in-person support groups. We want to dramatically improve support, care and quality of life for these patients, and initiate changes to fund research and steer investigators toward the disease. We have more than 1,500 members.
A core initiative of the group is a biennial patient conference, the Autoimmune Hepatitis Association Patient Support & Education Weekend. Our next one is May 31-June 2, 2019, in Indianapolis. We expect 200 patients and their loved ones. It’s the largest gathering of AIH patients in North America and a unique opportunity for patients and families affected by the disease to come together, connect and learn more about this rare disease. Patients tell me how much it means to meet other people with autoimmune hepatitis who understand what they’re going through. At the event, they’ll hear from experts and be able to participate in my research. When you’re a new investigator studying a rare disease, you wonder where to get samples and how to involve patients in research. We emphasize to members of the group the importance of being involved in research to advance our knowledge about the disease.
I want to be an independent investigator using tools such as genetics to better understand autoimmune hepatitis — a hepatogenomacist. I’d like to be a recognized national leader in autoimmune disease.
I’m a family man. Our kids are 6, 4 and 1. We love sports including basketball and tennis. I’m an active runner.
I noticed when I was at Mayo that the general fitness of the physicians and many others is great. They strive to remain active during winter. So now I run in the winter, too.
See past New Chapter stories here.