Second-year Pulmonary and Critical Care Disease fellow Luis Vargas Buonfiglio, MD, has received a one-year, $100,000 clinical fellowship from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to expand his research into identifying clear biomarkers of bronchiectasis resulting from cystic fibrosis (CF). Bronchiectasis is distinguished by scarred and dilated airways in the lungs and can occur in as many as half of people with CF.
“Currently this disease process is detected and monitored by the qualitative analysis of the physician reading the CT chest image,” Vargas said. In his now-approved project, Vargas will explore the possibilities of a more automated detection system. Using CT scans obtained as part of a clinical study testing the effects of CFTR modulators on lung disease, Vargas will compare baseline scans against scans from both two days and five years after initiation of ivacaftor, a revolutionary treatment that reduces CF symptoms.
In comparing the scans, Vargas and his colleagues will calculate the peripheral airway volume, airway vessel ratio, and lobar airway tapering as biomarkers of bronchiectasis and use existing software to automate the analyses. The software’s evaluative output will then be compared against evaluations of the same scans made by two expert physicians and thus gauge the effectiveness of the software.
One of the reviewers of Vargas’s proposal said, “This is an excellent application submitted by a talented young investigator with a high likelihood of success.” Vargas will be mentored in this work by David Stoltz, MD, PhD; Douglas Hornick, MD; and Alejandro Pezzulo, MD; all faculty in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Occupational Medicine. Joseph Reinhardt, PhD, professor of Engineering, Chair and DEO of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, will continue to mentor Vargas in this project as well.
“This grant would have not been possible without the support from my mentors,” Vargas said. Even before coming to Iowa from Venezuela for internal medicine residency and staying for fellowship, all as part of the physician-scientist training pathway, Vargas said he has benefited many mentors. A pulmonologist at his medical school in Caracas arranged a summer rotation for him with Joseph Zabner, MD. It was in Zabner’s lab that Vargas said he discovered his passion for research into CF. To date, that dedication has already translated into 11 publications, on which Vargas has been first author seven times.