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KU Faculty Portrait
Valerie Gieler
What's in your Briefcase, Matthias Salathe?

“The vaping and smoking robots in my lab,” said Matthias Salathe, M.D., Peter T. Bohan Chair of Internal Medicine and professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center. “The robots expose human cells to vaping and smoking to help us investigate effects on the respiratory system. We are looking at whether vaping nicotine is as safe as people thought or if it is actually as damaging as cigarettes.”

The latest research by Salathe’s team, published in June by the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, found that vaping had negative effects on the ability of cells to clear mucus from the airways. This could lead to chronic bronchitis and other conditions. Salathe has long been fascinated with how the lungs clear themselves from the things you inhale every day and how smoking or a genetic disease such as cystic fibrosis affects the lungs. He said more research in these areas is needed because lung diseases have drastically increased and are leading causes of death. This includes cancer, but also asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Those are very common conditions and are associated with significant disease burden for patients.

“Philanthropy is important in maintaining a steady stream of research support. I believe that to advance our therapies, we need to do research, and that is why we have an academic medical center. We want to cultivate the next generation of physician-scientists and to be part of the solutions for diseases.”

Grants from the federal government are vital for research. However, developing new projects typically requires an initial investment. Funding from grants only comes into the picture when you have an established idea. “It is so important to have philanthropy and other resources that give you the freedom to explore new ideas and new science that would otherwise not be possible.”

Salathe’s position as chair is supported by an endowed fund established by Peter T. Bohan, a KU professor of medicine from 1914 to 1945 who was known as a dedicated teacher and mentor. Salathe’s role is to build on the medical center’s excellent clinical education by expanding the research focus with more teams of physicians and scientists working together.

“What I enjoy most is getting people excited about making new discoveries and translating that into clinical practice. All of our progress over the last 40 years in medicine would not have been possible without academic research and support.”

He feels that KU Medical Center is an exciting place to conduct research because of its close connection and partnership with The University of Kansas Health System. “This is the only academic institution in the state and it has the potential to plug in research into all these patient populations. Therefore, it can uniquely improve, not only what we can do for Kansans, but for people throughout the country and all over the world for improving their health.”

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