History of Rheumatology

Rheumatology leaders

Dwight A. Ensign, M.D., Division Head 1942-1966
John W. Sigler, M.D., Division Head 1966-1982
Howard Duncan, M.D., Division Head 1982-1995
James C. Leisen, M.D., Division Head 1995-2010
Bernard Rubin, D.O., M.P.H., Division Head 2010– 2018
Alireza Meysami, M.D., C.P.E, RhMSUS, FACR, FACP, Division Head 2018 - present

When Henry Ford Hospital opened in 1915, Physician-in-Chief Frank Sladen, M.D., handled cases involving arthritis. In 1924 Dwight C. Ensign, M.D., joined Henry Ford Hospital as an intern and was appointed by Dr. Sladen nearly 20 years later, in 1942, to be the first chief of the Division of Rheumatology. Dr. Ensign worked at Henry Ford Hospital for 58 years.

In the 1960s, with Dr. Ensign, John Sigler, M.D., Howard Duncan, M.D., and Gilbert Bluhm, M.D. in the Division, John Sharp, M.D., joined the staff. A controversy at that time involved the use of gold therapy for rheumatoid arthritis. The Henry Ford Rheumatology team devised a 2-year trial to examine X-rays of rheumatoid arthritis patients receiving a loading dose of gold injections followed by maintenance therapy. For this study, Dr. Sharp designed the radiographic analysis system subsequently known as the Sharp score. Although Dr. Sharp moved to Houston to become chief of Radiology at the Baylor College of Medicine a year later, he continued to collaborate with his colleagues in Detroit and credited Dr. Bluhm for completing the study.

Dr. Sharp published his X-ray method in 1971 (1). Although modified by others several times, the Sharp score remains an important tool today in the evaluation of drug therapy used for joint inflammation.

Drs. John Sigler, Gilbert Bluhm, Howard Duncan, John Sharp, Dwight Ensign, and W. Ross McCrum were the authors of the seminal gold study published in 1974 (2). This study demonstrated for the first time that gold injections were effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatologists at Henry Ford also discovered that osteoporosis is associated with rheumatoid arthritis (3). This discovery was partially explained in a landmark study of rib bones using histomorphometry. In this process, staining techniques developed at Henry Ford were used to measure the dynamics of bone turnover.

Translational research in lupus and vasculitis (supported by the NIH) as well as cutting edge diagnostic and therapeutic ultrasound in our clinics will ensure that Henry Ford Rheumatology will continue the tradition of excellent teaching, patient care and research that has existed for over 70 years.


  1. Sharp JT, Lidsky MD, Collins LC, Moreland J. Methods of scoring the progression of radiologic changes in rheumatoid arthritis: correlation of radiologic, clinical and laboratory abnormalities. Arthritis Rheum 1971;14:706-720.
  2. Sigler JW, Bluhm GB, Duncan H, Sharp JT, Ensign DC, McCrum WR. Gold salts in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis: a double-blind study. Ann Intern Med 1974;80:21-26.
  3. Duncan H, Frost HM, Villanueva AR, Sigler JW. The osteoporosis of rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Rheum 1965;8:943-54.

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