Meet 2020 Uplifting Athletes Young Investigator Draft presented by CSL Behring research grant recipient Dr. Joshua Brandstadter


The Young Investigator Draft presented by CSL Behring is the result of Uplifting Athletes’ ongoing commitment to cultivate resources that accelerate scientific advancements for rare disease treatments and potential cures while facilitating the next generation of rare disease researchers.

To learn more about the 2020 Young Investigator Draft and to purchase tickets click here.

Researcher: Dr. Joshua Brandstadter

Young Investigator Institution: University of Pennsylvania

Education: Dr. Brandstadter did his undergraduate work at Wesleyan University (Connecticut) and graduated in 2006 with a double major in Molecular Biology and BioChemistry; obtained his Masters Degree in Immunology from Oxford University in 2007 and earned his MD/PhD from Duke Medical School in 2015. Dr. Brandstadter did his residency in general internal medicine at University of Pennsylvania from 2015-2017 and as a physician-scientist he is currently in the third-year of his hematology/oncology fellowship at Penn.

Research: Dr. Brandstadter is currently doing research associated with Castleman Disease (CD) a rare, life-threatening illness that is very poorly understood. Patients become very sick with whole-body inflammation and multi-organ failure that can quickly require ICU-level care. It often looks like CD patients have lymphoma, a cancer of the white blood cells of the immune system, with large lymph nodes that appear brightly on PET scans. However, unlike lymphoma, no cancer can be found in any type of white blood cell in CD, stumping doctors as to what could be causing the disease. Dr. Brandstadter proposes that the cells of the lymph node itself (“stromal cells”) might form inappropriate growths (similar to a polyp in the colon) that cause the characteristic large lymph nodes and whole-body inflammation seen in the disease. To do this work, he has developed techniques to study these cells in new ways to uncover their role in CD. Dr. Brandstadter is currently working to establish independence as a physician-scientist, a critical phase where his ability to establish an independent career studying CD will depend upon funding support and critical insights gained from pilot grants such as the Uplifting Athletes Young Investigator Draft. 

In Their Words: “Medicine helps people in the here and now. You are helping people in a concrete way and you are helping them during a scary time in their lives. You are able to give them some concrete steps forward and give them the best outcome possible. Science allows you to re-define what possible is and possibly change the rules about how it’s looked at. You are able to use science to possibly change the big picture for people. Science is more of a long haul toward really trying to change how the future looks.” – Dr. Joshua Brandstadter

To say Dr. Brandstadter was born into science and education is not a stretch. The father of two, who married his wife Katelin in 2013 after they met in Medical School at Duke, Dr. Brandstadter grew up in Port Washington on Long Island with science and education as modeled behavior.

His parents, Martin and Bonnie, had almost 80 years combined as school teachers in the New York City public schools before retiring.

During high school, an internship at a biotech lab gave Dr. Brandstadter invaluable exposure to the career path he was going to pursue. Science was the leader in the clubhouse when he enrolled in college.

“I’ve been in and out of labs since I was a high school student,” said Dr. Brandstadter, who grew up playing ice hockey and is a passionate New York Islanders fan. “I’ve always been interested in science and science research … learning new things. I’ve also always loved learning and it’s always been important. Learning has always been important to me.”

Although science was the direction he was leaning, Dr. Brandstadter still wasn’t ready to fully commit to that path as his definitive future and that is why he went to a liberal arts college for his undergraduate work.

During his time at Wesleyan University he studied economics and also took a stab at journalism – first as a writer, then eventually as the editor of the school newspaper.

“I definitely looked at other things. That’s why I went to a liberal arts college, to look at other things,” Dr. Brandstadter said. “I tested other things and gave them a real try, but science was the first love for me.

“It wasn’t until college where I had an opportunity to volunteer at a hospice and was dealing with end-of-life cancer patients that I discovered my passion for helping patients.”

That is why today, Dr. Brandstadter is a physician-scientist. His love of science and passion to help others as a physician drives him.

Dr. Brandstadter was nominated for a 2020 Uplifting Athletes’ Young Investigator Draft research grant on behalf of the Castleman’s Disease Collaborative Network (CDCN). The Castleman Disease Collaborative Network (CDCN) was founded in 2012 by Drs. David Fajgenbaum and Frits van Rhee out of the urgent need to advance research and improve patient care for Castleman disease. The CDCN is patient driven and patient focused and its novel and innovative approach called the “Collaborative Network Approach” has become a blueprint for rare disease research, inspiring the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to selected the CDCN as a leading patient-driven rare disease model and partner to spread our approach to other rare diseases.

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