Study, science honors among ATS meeting highlights for Pitt, UPMC

By: Chuck Finder

For a second year in a row, a study involving UPMC has been published by the New England Journal of Medicine in conjunction with a presentation at the American Thoracic Society (ATS) annual meeting – where several UPMC and University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine pulmonologists are being honored this week in San Diego.

Frank Sciurba, M.D.

Frank Sciurba, M.D.

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) research project about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) included work by Frank Sciurba, M.D., director of the UPMC Pulmonary Function and Exercise Physiology Laboratory, and professor, Pitt Division of Pulmonology, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine (PACCM). Under a grant from the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute (NHLBI), Sciurba and colleagues across the United States and Canada found that a therapy of cholesterol-lowering statins fails to improve the health of patients with COPD or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

“Pittsburgh was a key part of a study that cut a large swath across North America – Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore among other participating hospital systems and researchers,” Dr. Sciurba said. “While it’s notable that our research contradicted previous data regarding statins in COPD, we believe this study delivers another vital step in the ongoing science to find medications, treatments and cures for COPD.”

Pitt’s Derek Angus, M.D., M.P.H., Distinguished Professor and Mitchell P. Fink Chair, Department of Critical Care Medicine, was one of the five national investigators/authors on a NEJM-published study finding that sepsis contributes to up to as many as half of all U.S. hospital deaths.  Authors are scheduled to discuss the subject at an ATS news conference Tuesday in San Diego.

Last May, Sally Wenzel, M.D., was the senior author of an NEJM-highlighted asthma study that became the subject of news stories in the New York Times, Forbes and more.

At this week’s San Diego meeting, UPMC and PACCM also were doubly honored for research for the second year in a row. ATS on Sunday formally bestowed two  of its four 2014 Recognition Awards for Scientific Accomplishment to Rama Mallampalli, M.D., and Juan Celedón, M.D., chief,  Division of Pediatric Pulmonology, Allergy and Immunology, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC —  giving Pitt/UPMC four total recipients over this year and last. Two of the four 2013 Recognition Awards winners included Mark Gladwin, M.D., Pitt PACCM chief and the director of its Vascular Medicine Institute, and colleague Naftali Kaminski, who later left to become the chief of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine.

“Throughout my career, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with outstanding senior and junior scientists and physician-scientists. This has certainly been the case at Children’s, Pitt and UPMC. This award is further recognition of the superb pulmonary research community at Pittsburgh,” Dr. Celedón said.

Dr. Mallampalli was distinguished by ATS for his “groundbreaking discoveries in pulmonary cell and molecular biology” and Dr. Celedón for “research on childhood asthma and health disparities in asthma.”

“This Recognition Award is an honor for me personally, as well as a tribute to the world-class work done in pulmonary and critical care areas at Pitt and UPMC,” Dr. Mallampalli said. “To receive this award just one year after Drs. Gladwin and Kaminski were honorees, that speaks directly and loudly to the extraordinary science and research that we constantly pursue in our programs.”

The research of Dr. Wenzel and the University of Pittsburgh Asthma Institute at UPMC was featured as part of a national, NHLBI-funded trial using high-dose Vitamin D supplements in patients with mild to moderate asthma and a Vitamin D deficiency. The findings, announced Sunday, concluded that benefits were seen, but the inhaled supplements didn’t reduce treatment failures. Dr. Wenzel also made a presentation Monday morning amid a symposium on severe-asthma treatments.

Numerous other UPMC and Pitt people served as facilitators, moderators, presenters or panelists at ATS, among them Drs. Mallampalli, Celedón, Sciurba, Angus along with Patrick Strollo, M.D., Anuradha Ray, Ph.D., Merritt Fajt, M.D., and more.

Lori Reineck, M.D., a UPMC resident, and Pitt Health Sciences/UPMC colleagues also were highlighted at ATS with a mini-symposium late Monday focusing on their study about public reporting of mortality rates in hospital intensive care units.