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From Student Researcher to Assistant Professor

Dr. Emily Martin

Emily Martin, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, began her career at The University of Tennessee Medical Center as an undergraduate student in 2009. At that time, she was a volunteer researcher with the Molecular Imaging and Translational Research Program which sparked her interests in research as a career. Dr. Martin has always been interested in science, but had planned to pursue a career as a physician. After spending time in the lab at UTMC, it was clear that research as a full-time career was something she wanted to pursue.

“In this environment, I watched scientists not only work together, but also think together,” Dr. Martin said. “The ideas and opinions of everyone in the group were considered valuable, and in that room, the passion for research was tangible. It lured me in, and I have been hooked ever since.”

After completing her undergraduate studies, Dr. Martin enrolled in the Comparative and Experimental Medicine Graduate program and worked in the Amyloidosis and Cancer Theranostics Program under the direction of Jonathan Wall, PhD. Her dissertation—“Characterization and development of amyloid-reactive peptides as tracers for quantitative molecular imaging”—was completed in 2014.

Upon completion of her PhD, Dr. Martin joined the medical center as an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine working in Dr. Wall’s laboratory. As a new faculty member, in addition to her ongoing research, she focused on areas of the program in which she could make the biggest impact. Despite UTMC having a world-renowned amyloidosis program, Dr. Martin noticed the lack of patient support in the Knoxville area. This led her to attend a patient support group at Duke to see if it was something she could bring to Knoxville.

“Until that day at Duke, I had never actually met a patient with this horrible disease,” Dr. Martin said. “When I was able to physically speak to and listen to those afflicted by the disease I have spent years studying, I was incredibly inspired.”

Dr. Martin was able to jumpstart a patient support group in Knoxville with the help of Charlotte Haffner, Director of the Amyloidosis Foundation. The first patient support group in Knoxville was hosted in June 2016 and was quickly followed by a second meeting in October 2016 due to the success of the first. Internationally renowned speakers in amyloidosis research as well as patients and family members were in attendance. Dr. Martin is already planning future meetings in Knoxville.

Dr. Martin also identified a research opportunity that could potentially impact amyloidosis patients, and the Amyloidosis Foundation awarded a prestigious $50,000 junior research grant known as the Donald C. Brockman Memorial Research Grant, in support of her proposal. Dr. Martin’s project will evaluate a novel test for identifying patients who have multiple myeloma, or a similar disease, who are at risk of developing light chain (LC) amyloidosis—a deadly disease for which new treatments may be available in the near future. Early detection of amyloidosis is key to improved survival. She will study light chain proteins, isolated from patients’ urine, for their ability to make amyloid fibrils. She believes this simple test that will identify LC proteins that have a tendency to form amyloid deposits before symptoms of the disease appear in patients.

The grant is given in memory of one of the co-founders of the Amyloidosis Foundation who passed away in 2004 after being diagnosed with amyloidosis. His disease progressed from a different initial diagnosis, but once his amyloid was detected, it was too late. His story inspired the focus for Dr. Martin’s project, and she hopes her research will be able to make a difference for these patients by enabling them to be diagnosed and treated earlier.