President's Message

HomeATS CommunityPresident's Message ▶ Why I’m Dedicated to Research
Why I’m Dedicated to Research

October 2015
Atul Malhotra, MD

Atul Malhotra, MD

My best friend, Mike, died in 1997 of a sarcoma metastatic to lung. He and I went through high school, undergraduate, and medical school together in Edmonton, Canada, where I was born. When he died I remember feeling an incredible sadness, which lingers to this day, but also a nagging question as to why. I see this moment as a turning point for me when I became very focused on research.

I value teaching and patient care, but my biggest academic thrills have been in the discovery of new knowledge. I sometimes hear people criticize the American Thoracic Society with statements such as: “They are very focused on research.” I usually reply with pride, “We are very focused on research and proud of it” (even though we have plenty to offer clinicians, educators, etc.). I then try to personalize the conversation by responding, “Unless you are lying awake at night worrying that your children will succumb to polio, you are a direct beneficiary of basic research.” I find it alarming when people say they hate research or use the term “research” with a negative connotation.

I first came on faculty in 2000 and since that time, we have seen incredible advances in our field. Interventional pulmonology did not really exist back then. Pulmonary fibrosis was untreatable. Sleep apnea was regarded as a confounding variable rather than a public health threat. Sepsis and ARDS were also characterized by “striking out” whenever a study result was presented. Cystic fibrosis was managed symptomatically. Oxygen was the only proven therapy for COPD. Pulmonary hypertension could only be treated with intravenous prostacyclin and nifedipine—now I have lost count after about 12 FDA-approved therapies, and counting! The list goes on.

An incredible amount has happened since then that has directly impacted the care of our patients. This progress has been the direct result of basic, clinical, translational, and industry science, which have worked together to culminate in major advances.

Pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine have made incredible advances during my brief career. Despite these major advances, we have considerable room for improvement since we are only beginning to understand the biology of the lung and many of our patients die prematurely. I am proud of the ATS International Conference tagline “Where today’s science meets tomorrow’s care.” I know countless ATS clinicians who live and breathe this message, who want to know why they are giving a particular therapy, or what therapy might be available tomorrow.

Unfortunately I still don’t know why Mike died and probably never will, but I know that the answers and hope for many other patients and families lies in research.

Last Reviewed: September 2017