New Pulmonology Chief to Expand Research Activities

February 06, 2002

When Clement Ren, M.D., became chief of the Division of Pediatric Pulmonology and Allergy at Strong Children's Hospital during the fall, he joined the largest group of pediatric pulmonologists in Upstate New York. With four physicians and a team of well-trained nurses and nurse practitioners, they have more than 3,000 annual patient visits.

Ren is one of the few physicians in the country trained and certified in both pediatric pulmonology and allergy/immunology. With his arrival, pediatric allergy services are under the pulmonary division, allowing for a combined pulmonary and allergy approach when treating conditions such as asthma.

Ren was attracted to Strong Children's Hospital for many reasons. In addition to the excellent patient care that is provided, he's interested in making the most of research opportunities that could lead to better therapies - perhaps even cures - for millions of children dealing with illnesses and diseases from asthma to cystic fibrosis.

"Clinical care is the most basic of foundations for a thriving research program," Ren says. "The research we're doing at Strong Children's Hospital really requires a strong foundation of clinical excellence and we have that here. For example, our Cystic Fibrosis Center is one of only four centers in Upstate New York accredited and funded by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation."

Ren joined Strong Children's Hospital and the University of Rochester Medical Center in part because of its excellent track record of translational research, the notion of taking basic-science findings and applying them to patient care. "I embrace the idea of taking a solid idea from the bench to the bedside," Ren says. "There's a long tradition of that here, with one of the most notable examples being the creation and worldwide implementation of the Haemophilus influenza type b vaccine." Physicians and researchers from Strong Children's Hospital also were instrumental in the development of surfactant, which has saved the lives of countless premature infants born with respiratory distress syndrome.

Ren is excited about the possibilities and the benefit they might have for youngsters. "At the University of Rochester Medical Center, Barbara Iglewski, a professor of microbiology and immunology, is doing basic-science research about cystic fibrosis and pseudomonas," he says. "It is my goal to work with bench researchers such as her and help translate those crucial research findings into new drugs and therapies that can make life more productive and enjoyable for children."

Before joining Strong Children's Hospital, Ren worked at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. There, he took a division that was primarily clinical based and transformed it into one that was well balanced with quality clinical care and cutting-edge research. He plans to transform Strong Children's Hospital's Division of Pulmonology in much the same way, focusing especially on asthma and cystic fibrosis research. "There's a huge amount of research being done in these fields," Ren says. "It's important, because if you look at the data, respiratory illness is the leading cause of hospitalization and morbidity among children. Asthma, for instance, is the most common chronic illness of childhood, and the leading cause of school absenteeism."

Ren is a well-published author, having research featured in such publications as the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and the Journal of Respiratory Diseases. In 2000, Stony Brook awarded him with a Young Investigator Award for clinic research.

"During the next 10 years, there's going to be an explosion of therapies targeted at a number of different areas," Ren says. "I want us at Strong Children's Hospital to serve as a local and regional resource, a place that health care providers and parents can turn to for answers as information and breakthroughs start multiplying. I think we can play a key role in helping determine how to best deliver these new therapies to children."

Ren follows in the footsteps of well-respected former chairs such as John Brooks, M.D., and John McBride, M.D. In addition to boosting research efforts, he hopes to add a fifth pulmonologist next year to complement the hospital's clinical services, but competition is stiff. There are only about 30 newly board-certified pediatric pulmonologists each year and half of them aren't eligible to work in the U.S.

"We'll be faced with challenges, no doubt, but I look forward to carrying on the tradition of excellence that already exists here at Strong Children's Hospital," Ren says. "There's a tremendous amount of potential here to better the lives of children. I think we can be a model for the nation."

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