Running strong in the name of science

| Steve Bieler

At sunrise on Sunday morning, Oct. 15, 2017, the temperature in the Detroit, Michigan, area was already in the humid mid-70s – just in time for the start of the Detroit Free Press/Chemical Bank Marathon, Half Marathon and 5K. 

“A couple of years before when I ran this race, it was snowing,” says Andrew Johnston, M.D., Ph.D. Johnston is a research assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. 

Marco Bianchini, a mechanical engineer living in Rochester, Michigan, was more concerned with the size of the pack. “I like to set my own pace. When running in a crowd with thousands of people, it takes you a while to settle in.”

Johnston, recipient of a 2016 Karen and Dale White Discovery Grant, and Bianchini, a member of our first crop of Research Ambassadors, met last August at NPF’s National Volunteer Conference (NVC) in Chicago. NVC inspired the men to commit to take on the challenge of a 13.1-mile race.

“It’s always been a goal of mine to run a half marathon, and maybe someday a marathon,” says Bianchini. “After I met Andy and we talked about it, I thought, there’s no time like the present!”

“I haven’t run for a couple of years. I thought I’d like to start again. Marco and I encouraged each other. We just needed a little push,” adds Johnson.

The buddy system pays off

The two men live less than an hour’s drive apart. They were able to run in a 10K to prepare before the big event. They also set up Team NPF fundraising pages and brought in $500.

The Detroit marathon, half marathon and 5K takes runners over the Detroit River to Ontario, Canada, and back again via a tunnel under the river. Johnston finished the race in 1:57, Bianchini in 2:06. This put both men well within the top 25 percent of male runners in their age group (40s).

Johnston has completed two half marathons since Detroit and plans to run two full marathons this year. “I’ve been training in the past two months, about 30 miles a week,” he says. “But my Saturday-morning running is getting tricky now that ice crystals are forming in my eyelashes.”
 
Detroit was Bianchini’s first half marathon. He’s already signed up for the 2018 Detroit half marathon. “The half marathon is manageable in terms of time and training, and how sore I am the next day,” he says. “I have two kids, who are 7 and 4, and I have to keep up with them, especially in the winter months when they’re mostly inside.”

The psoriasis connection

Bianchini has had plaque psoriasis since his senior year in high school. After years of little success with topicals, he started taking the biologic Otezla (apremilast). Otezla has cleared up everything except a dime-sized patch on the back of one leg. 

Bianchini, who also has a family history of diabetes, has become more concerned in the past few years about psoriasis and his overall health. A few years ago, he took his internist’s advice and started running and exercising. “I also went to a nutritionist. I lost and kept off 40 pounds over three years,” he says. “It’s really important to stay in shape and control your diet, in my non-medical opinion.”

After being an NPF member for years, he became an NPF Research Ambassador because he “wanted to do something more than send money and utilize the resources.” Research Ambassadors are a nationwide group of specially trained individuals living with psoriatic disease. They provide the patient perspective to NPF-funded researchers, report on local research activities through social media and engage with patients in their community who are interested in research.

Bianchini enjoys connecting with scientists and talking about technical aspects of their research and psoriatic disease. “I remind them that I’m also a patient. I open their eyes,” he says. “They may be working in a lab on a small piece of the whole, and here’s a person who actually has psoriasis. I show them that the work they do effects real people like me out in the world.”

Johnston, who is from Middlesbrough, England, did his post-doctoral training on psoriasis immunology in Reykjavik, Iceland. He came to the University of Michigan as a post-doctoral research fellow. He credits the principal investigator at his lab in Iceland as a “scientific inspiration” and the reason he’s working today in the field of psoriatic disease.

Team NPF is proud to have Andrew Johnston and Marco Bianchini running with us. We invite you to join Team NPF Run to help us raise money to find a cure for psoriatic disease.

 


Driving discovery, creating community

For more than 50 years, we’ve been driving efforts to cure psoriatic disease and improve the lives of those affected. But there’s still plenty to do! Learn how you can help our advocacy team shape the laws and policies that affect people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis – in your state and across the country. Help us raise funds to support research by joining Team NPF, where you can walk, run, cycle, play bingo or create your own fundraising event. If you or someone you love needs free, personalized support for living a healthier life with psoriatic disease, contact our Patient Navigation Center. And keep the National Psoriasis Foundation going strong by making a donation today. Together, we will find a cure.

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