HemAware is conducting a series of interviews with researchers who have received awards from the National Hemophilia Foundation (NHF) to pursue their research interests. This interview was conducted with Christine Kempton, MD, MSc, assistant professor, Aflac Cancer Center and Blood Disorders Service of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and Department of Hematology/Oncology, Emory University in Atlanta. Kempton’s research focuses on inhibitor development in patients with mild to moderate hemophilia A.
What drew you to this field? What was your initial interest in this field of research?
For Kempton, the initial allure came in the form of interesting instructors at Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minnesota. “Dr. Ayalew Tefferi was the course coordinator, and he was quite a dynamic, exciting teacher.” Later, she was drawn to data collection and analysis. “I always liked the cognitive areas of medicine more than the procedurally oriented ones.” Hematology fit the bill. “With all the laboratory testing that you can order and evaluate, it becomes a puzzle to solve.”
Where were you in your career when you were awarded the Judith Graham Pool (JGP) Postdoctoral Research Fellowship?
Kempton had completed her second year as a fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when she was awarded the JGP in 2004. Her project was “Platelet Mechanism Regulating Thrombin Generation.”
What did you use the grant for?
“We looked at different ways that platelets could be activated and how this influenced thrombin generation,” Kempton says. Thrombin is an enzyme that promotes blood clotting. “As part of this, we looked at coagulation factors on the cell surface and how they varied depending on the way that they were activated.”
Did the research NHF funded through the JGP fellowship assist in advancing your own position at your research institution/hospital? Or did it serve as a building block to further your career or research in hemophilia?
The JGP both set Kempton apart and helped determine her research direction. “It helped me be identified as a successful fellow and be offered a faculty position,” she says. She wound up moving from UNC at Chapel Hill to Emory University to pursue other research interests. “Clearly it facilitated me moving into the area of hemostasis and research, and being an effective, productive junior faculty member.” Kempton then received a Master of Science in clinical research at Emory.
Are you still engaged in coagulation or bleeding disorders research specifically?
“I’ve been working on a case-control study of risk factors of inhibitor development in mild to moderate hemophilia,” says Kempton. The results will be published in the Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis. “I’m also studying bone density in adult patients with hemophilia.”
How does/will your research have an impact on the clinical aspects of patient care?
“I’m hoping that my research in inhibitors and their epidemiology in mild to moderate patients will facilitate a better understanding to ultimately reduce the probability of developing an inhibitor in these patients.” Published studies show that men with hemophilia have less density in their bones than their nonhemophilic peers, prompting a cascade of questions. “What it is associated with? Is it associated with joint disease?” Kempton asks. More important, who is at risk? “Can we better define the population that needs screening?” Questions surrounding treatment also abound. “I don’t think we can assume that treatments for other patients with osteoporosis are going to be as effective or similarly effective in men with hemophilia. It may be another mechanism of disease.”
What career goals do you have for the future?
Kempton minces no words. “Cure disease. Get published. Get grants. Be promoted,” she says with a laugh.
Where do you see bleeding disorders research going?
“With respect to inhibitors, we’ll get better and better at predicting who is going to be developing them. Hopefully that will facilitate our ability to modify their course.” Reducing the incidence of inhibitors and providing better treatments once they surface are noble goals, but Kempton is looking higher. “I would love it if we could actually know who’s high enough risk and truly prevent it.”
When you’re not working, how do you “escape” from your work?
Once Kempton leaves the office, she heads home to her husband and two sons, ages 2 ½ and 5. “My three boys pretty much take up my time once I leave here,” Kempton says. The active family enjoys playing together, swimming and taking trips to local sites, such as the zoo. Time to herself is a rare commodity, but when Kempton gets it, she spends it doing one thing. “Reading is about as much as I find time for,” she confesses.