For immediate release: April 14, 2006

GALVESTON, Texas — Dr. William Calhoun, the new Director of the Division of Allergy, Pulmonary, Immunology, Critical Care & Sleep (APICS) at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, has big plans to expand his department’s size and stature. The first step is to triple the number of faculty.

The faculty will grow from nine members to 26 members in about five years, Calhoun said. He’s planning to recruit several Ph.D.s. with backgrounds in basic science research that can be translated into clinical care, as well as physician scientists and clinical educators. Some recruits will have backgrounds working with infectious disease, biodefense agents and immunology.

Under Calhoun’s leadership, the department is boosting its participation in biodefense research. Anthrax, tularemia, Ebola virus and other dangerous pathogens often are transmitted through the victims’ lungs. UTMB researchers will study whether it’s possible to boost the body’s innate immunity to bioterror agents. Already, researchers are evaluating small lung-tissue samples taken from asthma patients for their ability to interfere with tularemia organisms in UTMB’s Biosafety infectious diseases lab.

“There is a nucleus of top quality faculty that will be fostered, and retained here, and we aim to bring the best and brightest recruits to the island,” Calhoun said of his ambitions for the department’s growth.

When UTMB recruited Calhoun from the University of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine, he already was one of the world’s most renowned specialists in the field of allergy, asthma and immunology. As an Associate Professor of Medicine at Pittsburgh, Calhoun was director of the Asthma, Allergy and Airway Research Center there. Asthma affects about 15 million people in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While at Pittsburgh, he was awarded a $5 million multi-center National Institutes of Health grant to study severe asthma. About 15 to 25 percent of asthmatics suffer from severe asthma, which doesn’t respond to conventional treatments or medications such as inhalers. Patients with severe asthma can die from their respiratory condition.

The NIH grant pooled severe asthma clinical trials from eight medical centers, including University of Pittsburgh, University of Wisconsin, Washington University in St Louis, Wake-Forest University, Cleveland Clinic and others. Calhoun established the Severe Asthma Research Program and the Asthma Clinical Research Network at Pittsburgh. Calhoun brought the NIH-funded projects with him to UTMB. Calhoun’s team expects to publish results of those studies in the next couple of years.
 
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