Dr. Suzanne Kafaja is a board-certified rheumatologist and the Director of the Scleroderma Clinical Trials Program at UCLA. She is a highly esteemed physician-scientist who specializes in rheumatology with expertise in scleroderma.
She began her journey in the field of science and medicine at UCLA, where she earned her Bachelor's degree in Biology with summa cum laude honors, as well as departmental and college honors. Dr. Kafaja also obtained her medical degree from David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Her passion for skin biology and immunology led her to pursue a research fellowship in Dermatology, where she worked with Dr. Jenny Kim, studying the role of innate immunity and Toll-Like Receptors response to P. acnes.
Dr. Kafaja is dedicated to advancing the field of rheumatology; this is evident by her extensive training and research. She completed a two-year Rheumatology Fellowship program at UCLA in 2008, with a focus on scleroderma care and translational research, under the mentorship of world-renowned scleroderma experts such as Drs. Daniel Furst, Philip Clements, and Dinesh Khanna. During her fellowship, Dr. Kafaja also conducted bench research supported by an NIH grant, where she investigated the role of immune cell interactions in skin inflammation and fibrosis. This resulted in a publication in the Journal of Clinical Immunology Insight. Given her expertise, she was hired by the Division of Rheumatology at UCLA in 2010 as a scleroderma expert.
Dr. Kafaja's clinical expertise extends to managing a complex cohort of patients with scleroderma and scleroderma mimickers, including eosinophilic fasciitis, scleroderma and scleromyxedema, collaborating with various specialists to establish and provide a state-of-the-art multi-specialty center for scleroderma care at UCLA. She is highly regarded by her colleagues who often refer their challenging cases to her for her expertise and compassionate care. Her collaborations with other experts in the field locally and internationally have resulted in impactful publications, including the SLS trials and the SCOT trial involving stem cell transplant in scleroderma patients, which were published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).
As the Director of Scleroderma Clinical Trials at UCLA, Dr. Kafaja is committed to providing excellence in clinical care and research. She is unwavering in her commitment to advancing the field of rheumatology and improving the lives of patients with autoimmune diseases, particularly scleroderma. Her outstanding contributions to scleroderma care have been recognized by the Scleroderma Foundation, with the Spirit of Leadership award. Dr. Kafaja also holds leadership roles in various professional organizations, such as serving as a medical advisor to the Scleroderma Foundation of California, an active member of the American College of Rheumatology scientific review committee, the World Scleroderma Congress Scientific review committee, the UCLA Pearson Conference organizing committee, the UCLA rheumatology fellowship selection committee, and the National Scleroderma Foundation Scientific Review Committee.
Dr. Kafaja's, compassionate and integrated whole-body approach to rheumatology is evidenced by her achievements and contributions to patient care. Dr. Kafaja is frequently commended by her patients as a one of a kind Dr. who blends the best of the old-fashioned family doctor cares with a modern knowledge base. Her expertise, research, and leadership roles at UCLA and beyond make her a respected and renowned physician-scientist in the field of rheumatology and autoimmune diseases.
Medical Board Certification
- Scleroderma Foundation, with the Spirit of Leadership award.
Areas of Focus
Dr. Kafaja has a research interest in skin and lung fibrosis as it relates to autoimmne diseases. She is actively involved in translational research and clinical research in systemic sclerosis, Raynauds, and stem cell transplant. She also carries out a large number of clinical trials in the field of psoriatic arthiritis ,and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Adipose-Derived Regenerative Cell Transplantation for the Treatment of Hand Dysfunction in Systemic Sclerosis: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Khanna D, Caldron P, Martin RW, Kafaja S, Spiera R, Shahouri S, Shah A, Hsu V, Ervin J, Simms R, Domsic RT, Steen V, Hummers LK, Derk C, Mayes M, Chatterjee S, Varga J, Kesten S, Fraser JK, Furst DE.Arthritis Rheumatol. 2022 Aug;74(8):1399-1408. doi: 10.1002/art.42133. Epub 2022 Jun 27.
- Anti-vinculin antibodies in scleroderma (SSc): a potential link between autoimmunity and gastrointestinal system involvement in two SSc cohorts. Kafaja S*, Suliman Y*, Oh SJ, Alemam M, Bagnato G, Abignano G, Singh RR, Barlow G, Liu X, Valera I, Morales W, Rezaie A, Pimentel M, Del Galdo F, Furst DE.Clin Rheumatol. 2021 Jun;40(6):2277-2284. doi: 10.1007/s10067-020-05479-5. Epub 2020 Nov 24.PMID: 33231773.
- Responsiveness of the University of California Los Angeles Scleroderma Clinical Trial Consortium gastrointestinal tract 2.0 (UCLA-SCTC-GIT 2.0)to change in scleroderma patients. Kafaja S*, Suliman YA*, Alemam M, Shaweesh Y, Tavakoli K, Furst DE.J Scleroderma Relat Disord. 2021 Oct;6(3):236-241. doi: 10.1177/2397198321992197. Epub 2021 Feb 22.PMID: 35387210.
- Gene-level association analysis of systemic sclerosis: A comparison of African-Americans and White populations. Gorlova OY, Li Y, Gorlov I, Ying J, Chen WV, Assassi S, Reveille JD, Arnett FC, Zhou X, Bossini-Castillo L, Lopez-Isac E, Acosta-Herrera M, Gregersen PK, Lee AT, Steen VD, Fessler BJ, Khanna D, Schiopu E, Silver RM, Molitor JA, Furst DE, Kafaja S, Simms RW, Lafyatis RA, Carreira P, Simeon CP, Castellvi I, Beltran E, Ortego N, Amos CI, Martin J, Mayes MD.PLoS One. 2018 Jan 2;13(1):e0189498. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0189498. eCollection 2018.
- Myeloablative Autologous Stem-Cell Transplantation for Severe Scleroderma. Sullivan KM, Goldmuntz EA, Keyes-Elstein L, McSweeney PA, Pinckney A, Welch B, Mayes MD, Nash RA, Crofford LJ, Eggleston B, Castina S, Griffith LM, Goldstein JS, Wallace D, Craciunescu O, Khanna D, Folz RJ, Goldin J, St Clair EW, Seibold JR, Phillips K, Mineishi S, Simms RW, Ballen K, Wener MH, Georges GE, Heimfeld S, Hosing C, Forman S, Kafaja S, Silver RM, Griffing L, Storek J, LeClercq S, Brasington R, Csuka ME, Bredeson C, Keever-Taylor C, Domsic RT, Kahaleh MB, Medsger T, Furst DE; SCOT Study Investigators.N Engl J Med. 2018 Jan 4;378(1):35-47. doi: 10.1056/nejmoa1703327.
- Mycophenolate mofetil versus oral cyclophosphamide in scleroderma-related interstitial lung disease (SLS II): a randomised controlled, double-blind, parallel group trial. Tashkin DP, Roth MD, Clements PJ, Furst DE, Khanna D, Kleerup EC, Goldin J, Arriola E, Volkmann ER, Kafaja S, Silver R, Steen V, Strange C, Wise R, Wigley F, Mayes M, Riley DJ, Hussain S, Assassi S, Hsu VM, Patel B, Phillips K, Martinez F, Golden J, Connolly MK, Varga J, Dematte J, Hinchcliff ME, Fischer A, Swigris J, Meehan R, Theodore A, Simms R, Volkov S, Schraufnagel DE, Scholand MB, Frech T, Molitor JA, Highland K, Read CA, Fritzler MJ, Kim GHJ, Tseng CH, Elashoff RM; Sclerodema Lung Study II Investigators.
- Ultrasound characterization of cutaneous ulcers in systemic sclerosis. Kafaja S*, Suliman YA* ( co-authors), Fitzgerald J, Wortsman X, Grotts J, Matucci-Cerrinic M, Ranganath VK, Furst DE.Clin Rheumatol. 2018 Jun;37(6):1555-1561. doi: 10.1007/s10067-018-3986-5. Epub 2018 Mar 10.
- pDCs in lung and skin fibrosis in a bleomycin-induced model and patients with systemic sclerosis. Kafaja S, Valera I, Divekar AA, Saggar R, Abtin F, Furst DE, Khanna D, Singh RR.JCI Insight. 2018 May 3;3(9):e98380. doi: 10.1172/jci.insight.98380.
- Scleroderma Foundation, with the Spirit of Leadership award.