Research for the Public Good

Linda Bonewald

If you Google “translational research,” you’ll undoubtedly find flow charts, Venn Diagrams and explanations of T1, T2 and T3 that rival the complexity of quadratic equations.

More simply put, translational research is turning scientific discoveries into new medicines and treatments.

UMKC has built a team and infrastructure to excel at it: through faculty whose discoveries in health and technology can change lives; through staff who have expertise in entrepreneurship and patents to take proven discoveries to the marketplace; and through collaboration with hospitals, other universities and among UMKC schools.

“The time is right for UMKC translational research to go big,” says Rafia Rasu, an associate professor in the UMKC Schools of Pharmacy and Nursing and Health Studies.

Rasu, whose mantra is “you can have a miracle drug but if it costs too much it doesn’t matter,”  performs economic analysis on pharmaceuticals — an important aspect of translational research.

Currently, UMKC translational research is benefitting some local residents through clinical trials, such as asthma sufferer David Pamperin.

Inhalers are his constant companion — attacks tend to occur every other day — and cost him hundreds of dollars every few months. So earlier this year when he read an ad for a medicine-free asthma research trial at UMKC, he signed right up.

“I guess you’d call me a severe case,” the FedEx delivery driver says. He’s missed work when his wheezing became unbearable, and has landed in the emergency room. “You really can’t do anything else when you have to concentrate on breathing.”

Asthma is a common lung disease that makes breathing difficult for millions of Americans, both young and old. In 2011, it was estimated that 25.9 million Americans had asthma, including 7.1 million children.

Pamperin made four months of weekly visits to UMKC, one of 18 American Lung Association Asthma Clinical Research Centers in the U.S.  The study, led locally by School of Medicine researcher Gary Salzman, a pulmonologist at Truman Medical Center, is examining whether a safe, non-pharmaceutical device that is used for sleep apnea can also improve asthma control.

The device, known commonly as a sleep mask, provides continued positive airway pressure (CPAP), which keeps breathing passages open during sleep to make airways more relaxed.

For the study, clean, humidified air is blown into the lungs in order to prevent airways from collapsing. The chest and lungs are more expanded, helping patients to breathe easier.

Salzman says CPAP treatment has huge potential.

“This could improve the lives of millions night and day,” Salzman says.

Pamperin hopes that the research that made his life better can do the same for so many others who live with asthma.

“It gives you more control over your life.”