Skip to main content.

Pulse: News from KU Medical Center

News from KU Medical Center

NASA launch includes KU Medical Center research on the female reproductive system

A SpaceX rocket launched from Kennedy Space Center in November 2023 with five major experiments, including one from KU Medical Center. KU Medical Center’s investigation is conducted in tandem with NASA’s astronauts on the International Space Station, and it is part of a NASA grant examining the effects of spaceflight and microgravity on female reproductive health. The purpose of this study is to learn whether spaceflight, directly or indirectly, causes ovarian dysfunction that leads to infertility in an animal model using female mice. The next aim is to learn whether bone loss is associated with altered estrogen in bone tissue. The International Space Station, which resides in low-Earth orbit and is protected from elevated levels of radiation, is an effective environment for the study. Disrupted ovarian function was observed in animal models on previous missions, so part of the work will be to determine the source of the disruption and whether it was perhaps microgravity or re-entry. Following the extended exposure to microgravity, follow-up experiments will be conducted to see if mouse fertility was affected.


KU Cancer Center receives historic $100 million gift from Sunderland Foundation to support new facility

The University of Kansas Cancer Center has received a $100 million lead gift to build a new, state-of-the-art destination cancer center. This gift is both the largest gift ever given by the Sunderland Foundation and the largest ever received by the University of Kansas and The University of Kansas Health System. The Sunderland Foundation gift is one of several significant investments in the new building. Earlier in 2023, it was announced that U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (Kan.) — a member of the Senate Committee on Appropriations — secured $43 million in congressionally directed spending to plan and help build research aspects of the new facility. Currently, The University of Kansas Cancer Center’s labs and researchers are scattered across multiple campuses in the Kansas City metro area and Lawrence, Kansas. There is a need to provide options to expand space for patient care and cancer research, as well as foster multidisciplinary collaborative research efforts. On the heels of the KU Cancer Center’s NCI comprehensive cancer center designation, a world-class research and clinical space putting patients at the center of science and clinical care will make it a global destination for the best cancer treatment. The new facility will be located on the 39th and Rainbow campus. It will be built in phases, with the first phase beginning as early as fall of 2024. The new building will bring expanded cancer care and research together in one place. Patients will have access to more innovative clinical trials and groundbreaking therapies developed on site. In addition, the whole patient experience — from nutrition and social workers to pathology and imaging, and everything in-between — will happen in one place. Researchers also will be able to collaborate in real time with physicians on personalized treatment options, making them more quickly available to patients.


All of Us program is collecting data from a million different people to drive new treatments and cures

The University of Kansas Medical Center is launching a Midwest consortium as part of the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program. KU Medical Center, and its partners will receive $6.3 million in initial funding, with the potential to renew the award every year for four years. The goal of the All of Us Research Program is to advance precision medicine research in an effort to enable clinicians to tailor patient care by accounting for individual differences in biology, behavior and environment. To that end, the program has created a national research resource that will include comprehensive de-identified health information from more than 1 million people in the United States. Unlike research studies that focus on one disease or group of people, All of Us is building a diverse and secure database that can inform thousands of studies on a variety of health conditions. Researchers will be able to tap into a broad database to better understand the risk factors for certain diseases and inform future treatments and prevention. The consortium includes academic medical centers at the University of Kansas, the University of Iowa, the University of Missouri and the University of Nebraska.


KU School of Medicine resident publishes study analyzing diversity rates in neurosurgery

Of all neurosurgeons in the United States, only 8% are female and just 1.8% are Black or African American. A group of researchers from the University of Kansas School of Medicine analyzed two key transitions on the path to becoming a neurosurgeon in hopes the results could direct efforts to increase those percentages. Jean-Luc Kabangu, M.D., a resident in neurological surgery, is the lead author of the study that was published in the journal Neurosurgery. Five residents and two medical students from KU School of Medicine comprised the study team. The team first analyzed how many medical students are accepted to neurosurgery programs after graduating from medical school. When medical students are looking for their first job, they depend on the National Resident Matching Program to get them the position they’d like in the specialty of their choice. After interviewing the candidates, hospitals with residency programs submit their lists of whom they’d like to hire. The matching program then pairs candidates’ preferences with residency programs’ choices. After reviewing 1,780 applicant submissions from 2017 to 2020, the team found that males and females matched at similar rates, but Black applicants matched at a lower rate (27%) than non-Black applicants (52%). Kabangu said many studies have highlighted the underrepresentation of women in neurosurgery, citing gender bias, work-life balance and limited mentorship opportunities as reasons that the percentage remains small. Another critical juncture of the neurosurgery career path happens at the end of the residency. These newly minted neurosurgeons seek out employment within their specialty, and those that find positions within neurosurgery are said to be retained. The good news is that residents were retained at similar rates, regardless of race or gender. The researchers suggested yearly follow-up studies of match and retention rates so trends could be established.


Study looks to dietary changes to improve cognition in people with Alzheimer’s and dementia

Scientists at the University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center have launched a study looking at the effects of two dietary interventions — a ketogenic diet and a heart-healthy diet — on the brains of people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment. Russell Swerdlow, M.D., director of the KU Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and principal investigator for the study, said the goal is to try to determine if these diets help, to what extent they may help and what mechanisms are at play. The study, known as Therapeutic Diets in Alzheimer’s Disease, is designed for adults who are 50 to 90 years of age and have been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease. Study participants are randomly assigned to either the ketogenic eating pattern or the heart-healthy pattern known as the Therapeutic Lifestyles Changes diet. All participants are required to have a study partner. For three months, they will follow their assigned eating pattern. Participants receive a monthly stipend for groceries and compensation for study visits. They will also regularly meet with, and have 24-hour access to, a registered dietitian for nutrition education and counseling.


Researchers work to improve health and prevent chronic disease in Southwest Kansas          

Researchers at the University of Kansas received $721,999 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the first year in the five-year Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) program. The REACH funding will help improve health, prevent chronic diseases and reduce health disparities among Latinos, who have the highest burden of chronic disease in Kansas's Grant, Finney, Ford and Seward counties. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke are among the most common causes of illness, disability and death in the United States. They are also leading drivers of the nation’s $4.1 trillion in annual health care costs. These chronic conditions — and the factors that lead to them — are more common or severe for some racial and ethnic groups. The KU Medical Center team will work with partners and local coalitions to enhance existing resources and address health needs in those four counties.


Studying tumors in people with Down syndrome could lead to new treatments for bladder cancer

People with Down syndrome have a lower risk of developing and dying from solid-tumor cancers, including bladder cancer. John Taylor, M.D., deputy director of the Institute for Advancing Medical Innovation at KU Medical Center, is studying cancer resistance in this population in order to find new treatments for bladder malignancies. Taylor, who is also co-leader of Drug Discovery Delivery and Experimental Therapeutics at The University of Kansas Cancer Center, was one of two recipients of the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network Innovation Award. The $300,000 grant will fund Taylor’s work investigating the biological reasons that people with Down syndrome are less likely to develop bladder cancer, knowledge that can be used to develop new drugs that target these cellular mechanisms and put the brakes on the disease. Taylor’s laboratory has already conducted a pilot study using a mouse model that revealed some genetic alterations that have the potential to be the target of a new drug. Even though there are roughly 80,000 new cases diagnosed every year and more than 700,000 Americans living with the disease, bladder cancer is underfunded and there have been few advancements in treatments for decades.


National HRSA grant helps train more nurses and respiratory therapists in pulmonary rehabilitation

The COVID-19 pandemic shed light on many shortcomings in rural health, and one of them was the lack of certified pulmonary rehabilitation specialists in rural areas. These are medical professionals in various fields who have received extra respiratory training to guide patients through therapies intended to enhance their breathing and strengthen their pulmonary system once it’s been damaged.

Faculty at the University of Kansas Medical Center are leveraging a $1.54 million federal grant to get more trained pulmonary rehabilitation specialists into rural Kansas. The three-year grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration runs through 2025. The grant-funded initiative is called the Interprofessional COVID Academic Network, or I-CAN. The initiative currently has three major parts. First, faculty reviewed the curriculum of a pulmonary rehabilitation certificate already offered by the American Association of Respiratory Care to assure its appropriateness for treating long COVID. Second, primary investigators reached out to faculty at KU School of Nursing-Salina as well as instructors of nursing and respiratory care programs at Kansas community colleges that serve rural populations.


KU undergraduate nursing program rises to No. 17 in national rankings

The Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at the University of Kansas School of Nursing rose five spots to No. 17 for all public schools in the country in the 2024 “Best Colleges” rankings released by U.S. News & World Report. In 2023, the program claimed the No. 22 spot for public colleges and universities. KU’s undergraduate nursing program also placed in the top 25 of the 656 undergraduate programs total (both public and private) that were ranked. KU tied for the No. 23 spot, rising six spots from its No. 29 ranking in the 2023 rankings. The KU School of Nursing bachelor’s program also was the top-ranked such program in the state of Kansas. The school has campuses in Salina, Kansas, and Kansas City, Kansas, as well as partnership programs with eight community colleges in Kansas. U.S. News and World Report has provided college rankings yearly since 1983, but this is just the third year it has ranked undergraduate nursing programs. The rankings were determined by the average of scores received from surveys of top faculty and administrators at nursing schools or departments that have bachelor’s-level accreditation by either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. In addition, these regionally accredited institutions must have recently awarded at least 40 BSN degrees.


People taking the new anti-obesity medications must make time for physical activity

Game-changing. Revolutionary. Unprecedented. These are the kinds of adjectives commonly used to describe the new class of anti-obesity drugs that includes Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro. These prescription medications mimic the actions of gut hormones that stimulate the release of insulin, which lowers blood sugar after eating and causes the stomach to empty more slowly. The weight loss that people achieve with these medications, however, does not provide all the health benefits they need. And these drugs have necessitated a re-focusing of lifestyle factors for the people who take them, including recommendations for physical activity and exercise, said John Jakicic, Ph.D., research professor in the Division of Physical Activity and Weight Management at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Jakicic and Renee Rogers, Ph.D., senior scientist in the KU Medical Center Division of Physical Activity and Weight Management, have published one of the first peer-reviewed articles about how physical activity fits into the treatment of obesity when using these anti-obesity medications. The article appeared in Obesity, the journal of The Obesity Society, in October 2023.


Wichita City Council approves location for joint biomedical campus

The Wichita City Council approved a plan in 2023 that advanced a project between Wichita State University and the University of Kansas to build a 471,000-square-foot health sciences center in the heart of downtown Wichita. Council members agreed to sell or lease two tracts of land and a parking lot at the southeast corner of Broadway and William. With $205 million of the necessary $300 million raised for the project, construction on the Wichita Biomedical Campus is expected to start in early 2024 and be completed sometime in 2026. The campus will combine WSU’s College of Health Professions, WSU Tech’s Health Professions program and Wichita campuses of KU School of Medicine and KU School of Pharmacy into one location. The building will include state-of-the-art simulation centers and standardized patient exam rooms as well as modern learning facilities. Initially, about 3,000 students and 200 faculty and staff will be housed at the center, with opportunities for growth in existing and new programs.


KU Medical Center professor part of international group that identified 50 global opportunities to advance women’s health

Despite years of policy changes and initiatives around the world designed to improve women’s health, the female body remains understudied, and research into the health of half the Earth’s population is chronically underfunded. Kimberly Templeton, M.D., professor of orthopedic surgery and sports medicine at KU Medical Center, is one of more than 250 researchers and experts from 50 countries who spent months devising an international framework to change that. The Women’s Health Innovation Opportunity Map, which was released Oct. 8 in Senegal at the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting organized by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, identifies and outlines 50 opportunities for research and development that are critical to improving the health of women. Sponsored by the Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, the Opportunity Map provides not only a road map for new research and funding opportunities related to women’s health, but also for training and education and support for women going into health-related careers. Templeton said heath care needs a more expansive approach to understand that for every condition that can occur in both men and women, there are sex- and gender- based differences — whether that is risk factors, prevention, presentation, prevalence or response to treatment.


KU Cancer Center receives $2.4 million training grant to support future cancer researchers

The University of Kansas Cancer Center has received a $2.4 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to grow and train future clinical and translational scientists. Translational research bridges the gap between basic research and its real-world application in clinical settings. The process involves interdisciplinary collaboration, substantial funding and often, years of effort. The National Cancer Institute’s Paul Calabresi Career Development Award for Clinical Oncology K12 award is an institutional training grant that supports the training and career development of clinical and translational researchers. Ronald Chen, M.D., MPH, chair of radiation oncology and associate director for health equity at The University of Kansas Cancer Center, will lead the program. He will be supported by Scott Weir, Pharm.D., Ph.D., associate director for translational research, and Lisa Harlan-Williams, Ph.D., assistant director for administration and education. Participants will be able to tap into the expertise of nearly 50 experts in translational research and clinical trials, as well as patient research advocates. They will also have access to the University of Kansas Medical Center’s nationally recognized proof-of-concept center and product development arm, the Institute for Advancing Medical Innovation, which is led by Weir.


School of Medicine researcher is testing drug to improve concussion symptoms

A drug tested in a pilot study is showing promising results in reducing common concussion symptoms. The current treatment for most people with concussions is simply to rest their brain by limiting physical and mental activities. Michael Rippee, M.D., associate professor of neurology at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, is partnering with a company to research a new drug treatment that might be a significant improvement over dark rooms and reduced activity. Rippee and his team have completed a pilot study testing ghrelin, a multifaceted gut hormone known for its stimulatory effects on food intake, fat deposition and growth hormone release. Famously known as the “hunger hormone,” ghrelin is being developed synthetically as a concussion drug, OXE103, by Oxeia Biopharmaceuticals, which sponsored this clinical trial of off-label use with KU Medical Center. According to multiple studies, concussions are a common reason to seek medical treatment, and a study done by National Public Radio found that nearly one in four Americans reported sustaining a concussion, with a third of those experiencing long-lasting symptoms.


NIH grant helps launch Implementation Science for Equity Center at KU Medical Center

KU Medical Center was awarded a $11.5 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to identify and develop ways to implement evidence-based practices into clinical care and ensure equitable care for rural, minority and underserved populations. The project is led by Kimber Richter, Ph.D., MPH, professor of population health and Christie Befort, Ph.D., professor of population health at KU Medical Center. The grant funds the creation of the Implementation Science for Equity Center at KU Medical Center that will be part of the NIH’s prestigious Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence program, which supports the establishment and development of innovative biomedical and behavioral research centers at institutions in IDeA-eligible states through awards for three sequential five-year phases. Implementation science is a burgeoning new field concerned with moving evidence-based research into clinical practice and improving delivery processes, including shortening the time it takes for patients to receive diagnosis and treatment. The center will provide mentoring and support for implementation science-based research.


Research at KU Medical Center experiences tremendous growth

The research enterprise at the University of Kansas Medical Center has grown enormously over the past several years, with faculty more invested than ever in making scientific discoveries to improve the health of Kansans and people around the world. In fiscal year 2023, federally funded research spending at KU Medical Center hit an all-time high of more than $120 million, nearly doubling the amount of spending since fiscal year 2017 and reflecting an average annual rate of growth of 11.5% across that six-year span. Total research spending, supported by private sources as well as government grants and awards, reached $180 million in fiscal year 2023. That’s a 50% leap just since fiscal year 2019, when total expenditures on research at KU Medical Center hit $120 million. Several large research grants have been awarded to KU Medical Center in just the past couple of years. In July 2022, the NIH awarded $27 million to support the Frontiers Clinical and Translational Science Institute, and the National Cancer Institute awarded The University of Kansas Cancer Center $13.8 million and designated it a comprehensive cancer center, their highest level of recognition. In October 2022, a $12 million grant from the NIH’s Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence program was used to create the new Kansas Center for Metabolism and Obesity Research.

University of Kansas Medical Center

Office of Communications
3901 Rainbow Boulevard
Mailstop 3013
Kansas City, KS 66160

Media inquiries: 913-617-8698
Staff Contacts