Pulmonary focuses on people

The below is a post from Joseph Zabner, MD, PhD, director, Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Occupational Medicine.

The members of our division believe in incorporating each element of the tripartite mission into everything we do. In our clinical practices, you will find research discoveries through clinical trials as well as education of medical students, residents, and fellows. Our researchers always keep the person we hope to heal in mind as much as we do the student standing at our side in the laboratory. And in our educational conferences, mentors challenge trainees to prepare them for the full responsibilities of their own eventual research or clinical practice.



With recent moves to the UI Health Care–Iowa River Landing facility, two of our specialty clinics have seen remarkable growth for different reasons. The Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (OPD) Clinic reorganized a couple years ago, establishing a team-based approach in which multiple providers offer their expertise on each patient. Because of the hard work of Joel Kline, MD; Spyridon Fortis, MD; Alejandro Comellas, MD; and Sara Kraus, ARNP, DNP, the OPD Clinic increased its volume nearly fourfold in its first year. Patient satisfaction followed a similar curve up, in part because of the dramatically easier access to desired appointment time. The happiness of our providers is also notably increased. The modern and sensibly designed facilities, the knowledgeable and consistent staff, and a more flexible schedule all contribute to a reduced burden on our clinicians. More recently, our Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD) / Sarcoidosis Clinics have expanded the unique services our division can offer. Newer faculty members Nabeel Hamzeh, MD, and Kamonpun Ussavarungsi, MD, have joined Kraus, Alicia Gerke, MD, MBA, and Lakshmi Durairaj, MD, MS, in treating a variety of complex ILD and sarcoidosis cases. They have produced a strong national reputation for Iowa in providing a level of specialized care few other institutions can match.

Both clinics provide cutting-edge care by offering access to new clinical trials and procedures. We are currently participating in 20 different drug trials. Our familiarity with new biologics during trial phases ensures that our providers are familiar with these treatments by the time they are widely available. We were the top national recruiter for a trial in bronchial thermoplasty and soon will be one of the first to offer endobronchial valves to people with COPD. This implantable device closes airways rendered non-functional by emphysema and offers a nonsurgical method for improved respiratory mechanics. A third clinic at the facility, staffed by former fellow and now-clinical assistant professor Rachel Butler, MD, offers training opportunities in addition to its general pulmonary services.

Our research program is similarly strong and continually growing. Its historical prominence is long established with one of the most productive centers for lung disease research, including cystic fibrosis, in the country. But we do not rest on our achievements, instead we remain focused on the future. We have been very successful at recruiting young and promising faculty into our ranks, all of whom are launching varied and productive research programs. We have taken to calling them the “K-Club” after the National Institutes of Health-designation for career development awards. I have asked each of them to identify their areas of research, where they’re from, and some personal information like names of spouses or significant others and children and their hobbies.

Please meet the K-Club:

Abou Alaiwa~Mahmoud

Mahmoud Abou Alaiwa

MD, American University of Beirut

Resident, Internal Medicine, American University of Beirut
Resident, Internal Medicine, Indiana University
Fellow, Pulmonary, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics

Research: Mechanisms of mucociliary transport in health and disease
Spouse/Significant Other: Maya
Children: Hana, Lea, Sara, Mila
Hobbies: Reading, Music, Biking

BlountRobert Blount

MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
MAS, Clinical Research, University of California, San Francisco

Resident, Pediatrics and Internal Medicine, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
Fellow, Pediatric Pulmonary, University of California, San Francisco
Fellow, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, University of California, San Francisco

Research: air pollution health effects
Spouse/Significant Other: Hao Tran
Children: Lorena, Frances, Carlo, Jessie
Hobbies: Hiking, jogging, gardening, beer making, beekeeping, astronomy

ChoJJosalyn Cho

MD, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine

Resident, Internal Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital
Fellow, Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Research: My research is focused on understanding how dendritic cell-T cell interactions in the lung contribute to pulmonary disease.
Spouse/Significant Other: Tracey
Children: Jett and Tayson
Hobbies: Spending time with my family


Spyridon Fortis

MD, University of Crete

Resident, Internal Medicine, Yale University/Bridgeport Hospital
Fellow, Pulmonary and Critical Care, University of Minnesota

Research: Clinical research in COPD
Spouse/Significant Other: Theoni Kostaki
Children: Chrysa and Haris
Hobbies: running, research

pezzuloAlejandro Pezzulo

MD, Universidad Central de Venezuela

Resident, Internal Medicine, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics
Fellow, Pulmonary & Critical Care, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics

Research: The Pezzulo lab is investigating: a) the regulation and consequences of goblet cell metaplasia in the airways, and b) the basis of variable phenotypes in inflammatory and fibrotic lung diseases.
Spouse/Significant Other: Emma Hornick
Children: TBD – Expecting a child at end of this month
Hobbies: Music and discovering new foods

RehmanTayyab Rehman

MBBS, King Edward Medical College

Internship, Internal Medicine, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center
Resident, Internal Medicine, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center
Fellow, Pulmonary & Critical Care, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center & Ochsner Medical Center

Research: ASL pH regulation & inflammation
Spouse/Significant Other: Zarrish
Children: Hasan (6) and Mishal (4)
Hobbies: Playing with kids, movies, books, cricket


Brad Rosen

DO, Osteopathic Medicine, Michigan State University

Resident, Department of Internal Medicine, University of New Mexico Health Science Center, School of Medicine
Postdoctoral Fellow, Medicine, Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Occupational Medicine, University of Iowa, Carver College of Medicine

Associate of Internal Medicine – Pulmonary, Critical Care and Occupational Medicine
Associate of Anatomy and Cell Biology

Research: My primary research focuses on understanding how abnormal mucus influences airway inflammatory states in cystic fibrosis.
Spouse/Significant Other: Courtney Yong
Children: n/a
Hobbies:  Ceramics, films, and traveling


Jacob Simmering, Ph.D.

MS, Epidemiology, University of Iowa
PhD, Socioeconomics, University of Iowa

Research: My research focused on using large databases to improve our understanding of the relationship between climate, weather, pollution and human health.
Spouse/Significant Other: My wife is Katherine Otto Simmering.
Children: Our first child, a girl, is due in September.
Hobbies: Outside of work, I enjoy biking, camping and combining the two in bike-packing.

Our division has also benefited from the Internal Medicine Residency Program as a pipeline for new faculty. We can be sure that they have been exceptionally trained first as residents and then through our own highly competitive and rigorous fellowship program. Two assistant professors joining us in July of this year have come to our roster through an even more competitive pathway. Charles Rappaport, MD, and Raul Villacreses, MD, are former residents, but also former Chief Residents. We are proud to add them to our team.


Charles Rappaport

Medical School: University of Arizona
Residency: University of Iowa

Chief Resident University of Iowa 2015-2016
Fellow, Pulmonary & Critical Care, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics

(Assistant Professor as of July 2019)

Research: My clinical areas of interest include lung cancer, bronchoscopy, and critical care medicine. My non-clinical endeavors will focus on undergraduate and graduate medical education, specifically developing and refining ultrasound curricula for medical students and internal medicine residents.
Spouse/Significant Other: Wife is Kristina Rappaport
Children: No human children, but we have a puppy named Percival
Hobbies: Avid baseball fan, and my hobbies include playing guitar, drums, and playing soccer.


Raul Villacreses

Medical School: Universidad Catolica de Santiago de Guayaquil Facultad de Ciencias Medicas
Residency: University of Iowa

Chief Resident University of Iowa 2015-2016
Fellow, Pulmonary & Critical Care, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics

(Assistant Professor as of July 2019)

Research: I am interested in understanding the physiology of the small airways epithelia, currently I am trying to characterize the function and regulation of a hydrogen pump that is present in the apical side of a small portion of the epithelial cells in the small airways.
Spouse/Significant Other: Vanesa, we have been married for 10 years, our 11th anniversary is 6/14th, the day before the graduation party =); we were classmates in medical school in Ecuador, we were together almost 5 years before getting married.
Children: Raul Alejandro (10) and Clara Emilia (5).
Hobbies: Love the outdoors, I enjoy hiking and camping with my family, I also like biking.

1 Response

  1. […] the rankings will follow. Good work produces good results. We can see this in the work being done in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Occupational Medicine. Under Dr. Joseph Zabner’s leadership, their members exemplify effective teamwork, not just in in […]

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