OMRF's Joan Merrill, M.D., (center), Teresa Aberle (left) and Fredonna Carthen (right).

The American College of Rheumatology has selected Oklahoma Research Foundation physician-researcher Joan Merrill, M.D., as a recipient of its 2018 Master designation.
Recognition as an ACR Master is one of the highest honors members can receive and only those who have made outstanding contributions to the field of rheumatology are selected. The ACR selected 21 individuals for the designation this year.
The contributions come through scholarly achievements and service to patients, students and the profession.
Merrill was presented with the award at the college’s annual meeting on October 20 in Chicago.
“I went to my first ACR meeting during my rheumatology fellowship in 1987 and I haven’t missed a meeting since,” she said. “Now more than 30 years later, it’s an honor to receive this award after a long, long career in this field.”
A graduate of Cornell University Medical College, Merrill joined OMRF from the faculty of Columbia University in 2001 to establish a clinical trial laboratory to work on ways to successfully test drugs for lupus.
Since then, she’s built a research cohort of more than 500 lupus patient volunteers, led numerous clinical trials for investigational lupus treatments, and pioneered novel trial designs for testing innovative therapies for lupus and other autoimmune illnesses.
Lupus, a chronic, disabling disease, has proven challenging to understand, said Merrill, resulting in more than $1 billion lost in failed trials. Only one treatment has been approved for the disease in the past 60 years.
Recently Merrill has been at the forefront of improving the recruitment of minority patients to clinical trials for lupus. She has also has been spearheading a call for transformative changes in trials for new lupus drugs.
“The goal is to have more approvals of effective drugs and to prevent ineffective ones from succeeding,” said Merrill. “That would be huge, because our patients need safer and better treatments.”
The American College of Rheumatology is a nonprofit organization founded in 1958 to improve the care of patients with rheumatic disease.