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Matthew Heng Liang, MD, MPH
Physician, Brigham and Women's Hospital
Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Brigham and Women's Hospital
Department of Medicine
Rheumatology, Immunology
75 Francis Street
Boston, MA 02115

Research Location: Peter Bent Brigham

Research Email:

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Research Narrative:

The systemic rheumatic disease are an important group of diseases and their risk factors and course not understood and studied mostly cross-sectionally. In the Nurses Health and Physician Health Studies cohorts, the largest of their kind, his group developed the first case definitions in the systemic rheumatic diseases and demonstrated that oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy were risk factors for SLE, that silicone breast implants did not cause connective tissue disease, and that anti-phospholipid antibody was a risk factor for blood clots in men.


In osteoarthritis, (OA) arguably the major public health problem in arthritis and musculoskeletal disease, he and his lab have studied clinical subsets since the 80s and first focused on the epidemiology of OA in Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) in 2003 and most recently in 2020. Nurses’ Health Study I and II combined is the largest and longest prospectively studied cohort in end-stage hip OA.  


He and his lab developed the methods for determining measurement sensitivity and responsiveness in clinical scales; in rheumatic and orthopedic conditions, were the first to use decision analysis, cost-benefit, and cost-effectiveness analysis, big data analytics, the internet for early diagnosis and referral of polyarthritis, and developed the methods by which the largest cohorts for the study of systemic rheumatic disease epidemiology were established.


In clinical trials, he and his lab have contributed to its basic methods in developing outcome measures, novel designs including point-of-care randomization and in multisystem diseases like systemic lupus erythematosus. I have designed and carried out more than 25 investigator-initiated clinical trials including one with more than 39,000 subjects and chaired or have been a member of 7 Data Monitoring Committees. I am a Study Director in the VA Cooperative Studies Program and preparing a manuscript for a 29-site placebo-controlled trial of lithium in suicide prevention which I designed and direct.


Lyme Disease is the most common tick-borne illness in North America and despite a thorough understanding of its transmission and treatment of its acute forms, it continues as a major public health challenge. My group has studied the long-term consequences of Lyme disease in a defined geographical area, the determinants and barriers to preventive behaviors, and showed that Lyme Disease could be prevented by targeted health education in a large RCT.


The epidemiology of functional decline and its determinants and modifiable factors are critical to improving outcomes. His group demonstrated that functional decline recapitulates in reverse order the sequence of acquiring function in normal growth and development.


Modern burn management has dramatically improved the survival of the acutely burned individual to the point where many individuals have now a chronic condition. Further advances and efficiencies in management will be facilitated by standardized patient-centered outcome measurement. To this end, he and Dr. Richard Tompkins developed the first quantitative patient-oriented outcome measures and documented their natural trajectory over time. This battery has become an international standard and a critical tool for outcomes benchmarking.

Harvard School of Public Health, 1972, MPH
Harvard Medical School, 1969, MD
Dartmouth Med School, 1967, BMS
Johns Hopkins University, 1965, AB
Baltimore Polytechnic HS, 1960, none

Kirkland Scholar Award, 2001-4
Best Doctors in America 2000-2016, Woodward-White
James H. Fairclough, Jr Memorial Award, 1997
American College of Rheumatology Award of zDistinction for Clinical Research, 2002
Molson Foundation Award, 2006-2010
Wallace Epstein Award for Training in Clinical Research, 2008
Lee C. Howley Sr Prize, 1998

Courses Taught:
1980-present, Harvard School of Public Health, Epi 208

Other Professional Activities:
Advisory Committee, FDA
Board, Rx Foundation
Advisory Board in Medical Education, HMS
GRECC Advisory Board, VA