Kimberly Skelding, M.D., FSCAI, has never been one to shy away from a challenge. Perhaps that’s why, at just 36 years old, she is one of the principal investigators on the CardioGene study, a research project supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute that is examining the role of patients’ genes when plaque forms inside an artery previously opened by a stent, a process known as in-stent restenosis. In other words, why is plaque more likely to build up in the arteries of some patients, while not in others?
The CardioGene study will help doctors understand the complex variables that contribute to in-stent restenosis while also providing important clues about biomarkers that predict which patients will benefit from specific treatments. Such new frontiers are not out of reach, predicts Dr. Skelding. “By using genetic markers, we’ll be able to figure out who to treat, who needs what the most, and who might be harmed from receiving a particular treatment,” explains Dr. Skelding, who is director of the Cardiovascular Genomics and Cardiovascular Research Center for Health Research and Rural Advocacy at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, PA.
Patients are currently enrolled in the CardioGene study at the William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, MI, and at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Dr. Skelding was in her second year as a fellow at William Beaumont Hospital when she wrote the initial protocol for this study.
A Humbling Disease
In Danville, PA, where Geisinger Medical Center is located, Dr. Skelding has a busy interventional cardiology practice. “I have found the skills I learned training under the giants in interventional cardiology at William Beaumont and the Mayo Clinic have served me well. When you work with cardiologists who are technically fantastic, it’s a challenge to make yourself better,” she says.
However, she adds, the challenges of treating coronary artery disease bring her back to reality. “It’s frustrating because, as cardiovascular experts, we treat but don’t ‘fix’ the disease progress,” she explains. She keeps in mind some words of wisdom passed on by one of her mentors: “We can make patients feel better, but it does not help with the struggles that the patients have ahead, and we have a long way to go in curing coronary disease.”
Dr. Skelding appreciates working in a great clinical practice and applauds a terrific research staff busy working toward grants. At the end of the day, she’ll often sit and look at what she’s accomplished and say to herself, “Wow! I did that!” She remembers asking a seasoned colleague if that feeling ever goes away. His reply has stayed with her: “It hasn’t gone away for me yet!” She hopes she’ll share his sentiment a long time from now.
In addition to the support she receives from her colleagues and mentors, Dr. Skelding gives credit to her husband Darrin, who has relocated all around the country with her. “We share the philosophy that we make wherever we are happy,” she says. “We honed our sailing skills while in Michigan and became dogsledders in the boundary waters of Northern Minnesota while at Mayo.” Not too long ago, she took a trip of a lifetime trekking mountain gorillas in Rwanda. “Ever since I was an anthropology major in college, I have had an interest in the work of primate experts such as Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, so I had to see the places I had read about in college.
About 50 percent of Dr. Skelding’s time is spent with patients in the cath lab, and the other half she divides between research and clinic.
In addition to her work on the CardioGene project, she’s become involved in the study of emerging new fields, such as percutaneous valve therapies.
Dr. Skelding is passionate about all aspects of her work, but she always finds time to play with her dog Theodore and enjoy dinner with Darrin and friends. She also hopes to be able to take advantage of her home in the woods by doing some snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing. “It’s really nice to not battle traffic and be able to get home to see your family for dinner,” she says.