New Pulmonology Chief Will Focus on Research, Infrastructure, Community Outreach

Lee brings distinguished research record from Yale

Patty J. Lee, MD, named Chief of the Pulmonology, Allergy and Critical Care Division following a distinguished research tenure at Yale University, will emphasize clinical excellence, innovative research, and improved division infrastructure to support future growth. She will also work to build stronger community partnerships in the region and across the state.

A professor of internal medicine and director of research in the Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine section of the Yale University School of Medicine, Lee is an internationally recognized physician-scientist who has studied the mechanisms of lung injury and repair. Lee, who began her role in May, summarizes her priorities for the division:

Question: What will be your most important focus points?

Lee: My vision is to build on the many existing strengths at Duke to create sustained clinical, educational and research excellence. That will mean expanding and improving infrastructure to support future growth, clinically and in medical innovations. I want to build on our existing expertise in our outpatient treatment of advanced lung diseases, lung transplantation, asthma/allergy and critically ill inpatients. These are the areas in which the division has traditionally excelled in service to Durham county and the region. I hope we can expand those services to improve outcomes, develop innovative metrics to gauge our effectiveness, expand translational research initiatives, and identify ways to improve community outreach.

Question: The Patty Lee Lab at the Yale University School of Medicine was internationally recognized. What research priorities will you bring to the division? Will your lab be replicated at Duke?

Lee: Pulmonology should be at the forefront of research here and I believe it can be more effectively integrated within the university, medical center and general community. We are actively pursuing collaborations with cardiovascular medicine, environmental sciences, vascular surgery, bioengineering and the aging program, with whom the division has many shared research interests. The division is also creating research tracks in Global Health, health disparities and outcomes science based on the unique expertise available in the university and department of medicine.

Duke pulmonology has an excellent record with the National Institutes of Health and industry-sponsored, site-based clinical trials. We also have state-of-the-art translational immunology research in transplant and allergic diseases, active collaborations with several basic science departments, a nationally respected interstitial lung disease program, and we have launched innovative research into environmentally-induced lung injury. We have a lot to build on.

While some of my lab personnel will relocate, I plan to align the specific research projects with Duke’s resources and faculty. My clinical interests are in acute lung injury and age-related advanced lung diseases, specifically the role of innate immunity in lung injury and repair responses. My research is closely integrated with vascular biology because the lung is one of the most vascular organs, with lung vasculature serving as a direct interface between the inhaled environment and the entire blood volume. Every second, every heartbeat.

Question: Can you provide more detail regarding into your thoughts about infrastructure improvement?

Lee: Improved infrastructure will allow for faculty development, especially early-stage careers, faculty recruitment and enhanced collaborations between clinical and research faculty. Pulmonology can be at the forefront of the clinical, educational and investigative initiations of the health system and university. We will achieve this through a deeper engagement in such emerging disciplines as bioengineering, bioinformatics, machine learning, and artificial Intelligence. To participate fully in those opportunities, we must strengthen our programmatic infrastructure.

We are now developing a new lung and ICU registry that includes biospecimens, clinical data and, eventually, outcomes to serve as a foundation for our research initiatives. This will become a training ground for translational and basic science-oriented trainees and faculty, providing a career springboard. The registry reflects our commitment to our pre- and post-transplant research into advanced lung diseases, such as interstitial lung disease. All of this will require planning and foresight. We will focus on efficient investments that yield benefits in a sustainable manner.

Question: You often cite the need to encourage personal and professional development among faculty. Can you elaborate on these objectives?

Lee: Pulmonologists often provide care for the sickest patients in the hospital, such as those in intensive care units or in the transplant center. We care for patients who have chronic lung conditions, almost always diagnosed in the later years of life and with limited therapeutic options. To serve our patients effectively, we want to nurture a philosophy that makes it okay to focus on taking care of ourselves as providers.

In this role as chief, I want to emphasize professional and personal development for the entire faculty with a focus on junior investigators. We will emphasize the most effective ways to help our faculty, particularly the younger members, achieve their aspirations to become the clinical investigator, master clinician and/or educator.