The cornerstone of any medical treatment is research. When you buy cold medicine over the counter, eat low-carb or antioxidant-rich foods, or walk for 30 minutes a day, there was more than likely a clinical study done at a university to support those actions. And possibly, that research was conducted here in Kansas.

Virginia Rider, chairwoman of Pittsburg State University’s biology department, said this is an exciting time in medicine, especially with research leading to new products, drugs and biomedical research promoting human health.

“Thanks to large-scale genome projects, we are able to understand global changes in how people respond to external signals, drugs and combat diseases,” she said.

Medical research covers a vast range of topics. Studies are conducted in the fields of pharmacology, biology, chemistry and toxicology, just to name a few. The goals are to create new medicines and procedures, or to improve ones already in existence, which will benefit human health.

The University of Kansas Medical Center has robust research programs in several areas, said Richard Barohn, vice chancellor for research, most notably in the areas of Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, cardiac, kidney and rare neurological diseases. Barohn pointed to the following:

• KU Medical Center is home to the University of Kansas Cancer Center, which is one of only 70 National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers nationwide.

• The University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center is one of only 31 National Institute on Aging-designated Alzheimer’s centers nationwide.

• A five-year, $25 million grant from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health that supports KU's clinical and translational science institute, Frontiers, that works to accelerate research in all areas of the university and partner institutions.

Barohn said KU Medical Center is one of only 27 institutions that has all three of those national designations, each of which comes with significant federal funding.

Pittsburg State’s current research projects include the following:

• Anuradha Ghosh, assistant professor of biology, has conducted a surveillance study for three years that investigates the distribution of three dominant tick species in southeast Kansas, particularly the non-native Ixodes spp, that carries the pathogen for Lyme disease, and uses a molecular technique to detect tick-borne bacterial pathogens. She also has research interests in food safety, antimicrobial resistance in the environment, pollutant detection and more.

• Assistant professor Kristi Frisbee and professor Barbara McClaskey, both in the Irene Ransom Bradley School of Nursing, are collecting data at Via Christi Hospital regarding neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome. The second phase of their study will focus on intervention. Frisbee is collaborating with researchers in other states.

• Ram Gupta, associate professor of polymer chemistry, is working with students to research biobased polymers, biocompatible nanofibers for tissue regeneration, biodegradable metallic implants and green energy production and storage using conducting polymers, among other things.

Pittsburg State's Rider, a leading scientist in the area of reproductive immunology, is overseeing students researching implantation and immunology of pregnancy in hopes that understanding the process will help women who want to have children someday.

KU Medical Center's Barohn said: “Our Alzheimer’s disease center is leading the nation with its clinical trials in exercise and diet. Right now, exercise is showing great promise in preventing cognitive decline from Alzheimer’s disease. We are expanding those trials in the next year as we continue to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease. At the KU Cancer Center, we are leading the nation in immunotherapy trials and cellular therapeutics such as Car T, where a patient’s own cells are used to fight their cancer. We also are seeing new novel drug therapies being tested for neurological illnesses such as ALS and muscular dystrophy.”

Rider pointed out this area of the state is prime for researching the effects of coal mining on human health.

“There are important health issues open for exploration in a unique setting like southeast Kansas,” she said.

While Pittsburg State doesn’t receive money from pharmaceutical companies for research projects, KU Medical Center does, along with federal funding. The center is expanding its investigator-initiated clinical trials and pharmaceutical-sponsored clinical trials.

Barohn and Rider said the amount of research being done at their respective universities is increasing, with Barohn adding: “We are seeing an expansion in the number of cutting-edge therapies being developed for many different diseases. In many fields, you see an excitement that maybe wasn’t as apparent a decade ago. We are very optimistic for the future of health care research, both in general and here at KU Medical Center.”

Linda Ditch is a freelance writer in Topeka. She can be reached at lindaaditch@gmail.com.