Abbott Laboratories (NYSE: ABT) has donated $3.5 million to the American College of Rheumatology Research and Education Foundation (ACR/REF).

The donation, which is the largest one-time gift that the Atlanta-based foundation has received to date, is to an endowment program that will ensure the continued recruitment of rheumatologists and rheumatology health professionals for years to come.

The ACR/REF Abbott Endowment for Rheumatology Development will focus on attracting medical students, residents and health professionals to careers in rheumatology, a subspecialty of internal medicine that focuses on arthritis and other rheumatic diseases. The endowment is expected to support a select number of existing award programs as well as support the development of several new awards.

While new and emerging treatments have the potential to improve the quality of life for patients with arthritis and other musculoskeletal diseases, such advances come at a time when many rheumatology practitioners, educators and researchers will be retiring. It is estimated that by the year 2015, the number of retiring rheumatologists is expected to surpass the number of young professionals entering the field.

“We consider this initiative to be one of the most important efforts of the foundation, and are extremely pleased to partner with Abbott Laboratories,” ACR/REF President Joseph Golbus said in a statement. “Recruiting medical professionals into the rheumatology field means that more Americans will benefit from the knowledge, experience and care that rheumatologists are uniquely qualified to provide.”

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