Skip to main content.

Parker B. Francis Summer Research Fellow Mentors

Listed below are faculty at the University of Kansas who are potential PBF Summer Research Fellow Mentors. You may also request mentors not on this list who hold faculty positions and are conducting relevant research at the University of Kansas.

Jeff Bose portraitJeffrey Bose, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Microbiology, Molecular Genetics, and Immunology

Dr. Bose’s lab seeks to understand what allows the human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus to cause disease. This pathogen has become a grave health threat due, in part, to the emergence of highly transmissible strains and resistance to antibiotics. While most S. aureus infections are skin infections, this bacterium can cause a variety of highly invasive and deadly diseases including: necrotic pneumonia, sepsis, necrotizing fasciitis, and endocarditis. Interestingly, S. aureus is also found to colonize about 40% of the population asymptomatically at any given time and is the first organism in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients, possibly opening the door for entry of other pathogens. The ability to transition between colonization and disease-causing states is poorly understood and Dr. Bose seeks to understand the mechanisms behind the control of virulence factor production by taking multi-disciplinary approach. His lab is one of the leading experts on S. aureus genetics, we also utilize protein enzymology, structural biology, metabolic analyses, and finally, murine models of infection. They believe that by understanding the signals and pathways contributing to host recognition, the field will be able to develop new and better-targeted therapeutics for this devastating pathogen.

Mario Castro portraitMario Castro, M.D., MPH
Chief, Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine
Vice Chair for Clinical and Translational Research
Director, Frontiers: University of Kansas Clinical and Translational Science and Institute
University of Kansas School of Medicine

Dr. Castro is a Professor of Medicine, Vice Chair for Clinical and Translational Research, Department of Medicine, Chief, Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC), and Director of the Frontiers: University of Kansas Clinical and Translational Science Institute and Adjunct Research Professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine. He has been a leader of the CDC Controlling Asthma in American Cities, American Lung Association Airway Clinical Research Centers, and NHLBI Asthma Clinical Research Network, Severe Asthma Research Program, AsthmaNet and PrecISE research networks. His translational research projects in the Asthma and Airway Translational Research Unit (AATRU) are focused on the pathogenesis of asthma and treatment of asthma, especially in severe disease.

Recently, Dr. Castro has spearheaded several initiatives to combat the COVID-19 pandemic: Lead investigator for NIH/NIAID-funded COVID-19 Prevention Trials Network (CoVPN trial), ACTIV-2 trial and the PCORNET HERO HCQ trial. He is the author of over 30 chapters/books and over 300 peer-reviewed articles; over the past 25+ years, Dr. Castro has trained over 40 junior clinical & translational scholars. He is widely recognized as an expert clinician, an excellent mentor, and skilled educator with a significant commitment to the development of young investigator’s careers. 

Nikki Cheng portraitNikki Cheng, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

Dr. Cheng’s laboratory investigates the functions of stromal fibroblasts in the tumor microenvironment during breast cancer progression.

Fibroblasts are a major cellular component of the tumor microenvironment and influence cancer cell behavior directly and indirectly through secretion of soluble factors, including growth regulators and angiogenic factors.  While genetic alterations in breast fibroblasts may exert pro-tumorigenic effects, little is known of the cellular and molecular signals that regulate fibroblast functions in the tumor microenvironment.

Studies in Dr. Cheng’s laboratory suggest that fibroblasts may interact with breast cancer cells to regulate cancer cell motility and invasion through chemokine signaling.  Using multiple approaches, including mouse models of cancer, molecular biology, biochemistry and cell culture systems, Dr. Cheng’s research is directed at understanding the functions of stromal cells in the tumor microenvironment and the impact of the tumor microenvironment on metastatic spread.

Her research team has recently identified potentially novel roles for CXCL1 and CCL2 chemokine signaling in regulating fibroblast: epithelial interactions during lung metastasis.  Using 3D cell culture models, future studies seek to 1) characterize the role of lung fibroblasts on breast cancer cell growth, survival and invasion in the context of chemotherapy treatment, 2) examine the role of putative CCL2 and CXCL1 chemokine mechanisms in regulating fibroblast: cancer cell interactions in the lung. These studies will have important implications on the treatment of lung metastasis.  By identifying and understanding the molecular signals that create a tumor permissive environment, these studies may contribute to identifying new molecular targets for therapy and developing improved methods for diagnosing and treating metastatic breast cancer.

Navneet Dhillon portrait

Navneet Dhillon, Ph.D.
Professor, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care

Dr. Dhillon’s research interests are focused on unraveling the molecular pathways involved in HIV-infection associated pulmonary disorders, particularly vasculature dysfunction associated with cardio-pulmonary complications.

In general, the prolonged survival of human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV-1)-infected patients with the use of antiretroviral therapy has resulted in increase in the incidence of non-infectious cardio-vascular and pulmonary complications such as coronary heart disease and pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), especially among intravenous drug users. The long-term goal of the lab is to understand mechanistically how HIV-1 and drugs of abuse interact and contribute to the pulmonary vascular remodeling, which can later help in developing novel and effective therapeutic intervention strategies against cardiopulmonary complications associated with HIV-infection.

Current research is aimed at:

  • elucidating the underlying molecular mechanism(s) involved in the augmentation of HIV-protein related pulmonary smooth muscle hyperplasia in the presence/absence of illicit drugs;
  • exploring the role of extracellular vesicles released by macrophages in HIV associated pulmonary arteriopathy;
  • defining the mechanism(s) involved in autophagy-mediated augmentation of HIV-related pulmonary endothelial dysfunction.

Dr. Dhillon’s research is currently supported by multiple grants from the National Institute of Health.

Students will join a post-doctorate fellow or a research technician to work on one of the above-mentioned projects and will get hands-on experience on various molecular biology, cell-culture and basic laboratory techniques. Students will also get an opportunity to observe the catheterization and hemodynamic analysis on an animal model system.

Ed Ellerbeck portraitEdward Ellerbeck, M.D., MPH
Professor, Chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health

Dr. Ellerbeck’s research focuses on improving primary care delivery and delivery of preventive services with a particular focus on tobacco control, cancer screening, diabetes management, and cardiovascular health.

He has experience conducting interventional and observational studies on quality of care in hospitals and primary care practices.  Dr. Ellerbeck developed, implemented and tested a ‘chronic care model’ for smoking cessation, demonstrating that smokers are willing to make repeated cessation attempts over a 2-year period of follow-up.  He has also conducted direct observation of smoking cessation interventions in physician offices and academic detailing among 300 Kansas primary care physician offices to improve delivery of preventive services 

Dr. Ellerbeck is Medical Director of “U Kan Quit” at KUMC hospital.  Students would work on projects examining the delivery of smoking cessation services to hospitalized patients.

Kimber Richter portraitKimber P. Richter, Ph.D., MPH
Professor, Preventive Medicine and Public Health

Dr. Richter is Director of UkanQuit at KUMed, a bedside tobacco treatment service for our hospital inpatients, which has served over 10,000 patients since its inception in 2006.

Based on UKanQuit, Dr. Richter leads an NIH-funded study to identify the best way to link hospitalized smokers with treatment after discharge.  She was also principal investigator of Connect2Quit, an NIH-funded trial on the effectiveness of real-time internet video counseling for smoking cessation for rural smokers in Kansas.  Her team is currently analyzing data on a national survey conducted among substance abuse treatment facilities to identify what they do (and don’t do) to help their clients quit smoking. 

Dr. Richter is President of the Association for Medical Education and Research on Substance Abuse and is on the editorial board for the new peer-reviewed journal Addiction Science and Clinical Practice.

Eleanor Leavens portraitEleanor Leavens, Ph.D.
Research Assistant Professor, Department of Population Health

Dr. Leavens is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Population Health at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Dr. Leavens received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Oklahoma State University and completed her clinical internship at the Medical University of South Carolina. Her research focuses broadly on the assessment of tobacco regulatory policies and investigates mechanisms that contribute to tobacco use and tobacco-related health inequities. Specifically, her research investigates product standards for new and emerging tobacco products such as electronic cigarettes, heat-not-burn devices, and hookah smoking and evaluates the impact on disparate populations. Ongoing projects use human laboratory methods to assess nicotine delivery, use patterns, and perceptions of electronic cigarettes, heated tobacco products, and cigarettes among African American and white smokers.

Matthias Salathe portraitMatthias Salathe, M.D.
Professor, Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine
Chair, Department of Internal Medicine

Mucociliary clearance (MCC) is an important airway defense mechanism that continuously removes inhaled particles and pathogens from the lung to combat respiratory infections. MCC is impaired in many lung diseases, including Cystic fibrosis (CF), leading to the accumulation of mucus and a favorable environment for infection. While cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease, many foreign particles are purposefully inhaled and thereby compromise MCC. Classically these are particles from tobacco cigarettes. However recently, e-cigarette vaping has emerged as public health crisis. Dr. Salathe’s research lab is focused on 1) understanding the mechanisms by which airway inflammation worsens MCC in CF, 2) determining the impact of e-cigarette vapor, including nicotine and flavors, on MCC, and 3) testing whether anti-inflammatory medications can prevent tobacco smoke-induced mucociliary dysfunction and combat CF-related airway inflammation to improve MCC in these patients.

The laboratory uses primary human airway epithelial cells that are grown at the air-liquid interface (ALI) to best resemble the native human airway. Key components of the mucociliary clearance system remain intact in vitro, including the beating cilia that transport mucus across the epithelial surface and ion channels that keep the epithelial surface well hydrated.

Current research is aimed at:

  • Understanding the molecular mechanisms by which inflammation inhibits ion channel function in CF and exploring treatments that reverse inflammation-induced mucociliary dysfunction.
  • Identifying the molecular pathways activated by e-cigarette vapor that are responsible for inflammatory airway epithelial injury. These experiments employ the use of a “vaping robot” to expose airway epithelial cells to e-cigarette vapor.
  • Determining whether anti-inflammatory medications can prevent cigarette smoke-induced mucociliary dysfunction in the nasal and sinus epithelia. These experiments employ the use of a “smoking robot” to expose airway epithelial cells to tobacco smoke.

The research program spans work from the bench to the bedside and is currently supported by multiple grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute. Students will work closely with a postdoctoral fellow or a scientist on one of these projects. Students will get hands-on experience with cell culture techniques working with primary human cells and will be trained in various molecular biology, physiology, and microscopy techniques.

Steven Simpson portraitSteven Q. Simpson, M.D.
Professor, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine 

Dr. Simpson’s research is focused on the condition of severe sepsis, the most deadly complication of infection, which kills more than 250,000 people every year in the United States.  He is the founder of the Midwest Critical Care Collaborative and the Kansas Sepsis Project, both of which have as their main goal, the implementation of rapid aggressive recognition and treatment of severe sepsis in hospitals throughout the region

Dr. Simpson is involved in sepsis research on several different clinical and translational levels.  He uses the HERON database, a repository of clinical information on all KU Hospital inpatients to determine factors that affect the outcome of severe sepsis.  The database contains information on over 100,000 patients and more than 5,000 patients with severe sepsis, allowing for robust epidemiological analysis.

Dr. Simpson is also involved in prospective studies of hemodynamic changes in septic patients and how hemodynamic variables can be measured and manipulated non-invasively. Dr. Simpson and colleagues from Kansas State University have developed a mathematical model for the clinical progression of sepsis and are initiating studies to further validate the model with collection of clinical specimens and data. 

Students could find a role in any of these studies.

Isaac Sundar portraiIsaac K. Sundar, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care Medicine

Dr. Isaac Sundar is an Associate Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center. He is the principal investigator for the NIH/NHLBI-funded R01 that is focused to understand the role of circadian clock molecule REV-ERB alpha in allergic asthma.

Dr. Sundar received his bachelor’s degree in Microbiology from the University of Madras, Chennai, India and a master’s degree in Applied Microbiology from Periyar University, Salem, India. Later, he pursued his Ph.D. in Biotechnology from Pondicherry University, Pondicherry, India. He was extensively trained under the guidance of Prof. Irfan Rahman (University of Rochester Medical Center), a pioneer in the field of oxidative stress, lung inflammation and redox biology during his postdoctoral training. Dr. Sundar’s ongoing research interests include basic and translational aspects of circadian rhythms and their role in chronic inflammatory lung disease models. Additionally, his research will include other emerging areas such as epigenetics and chromatin remodeling role in chronic lung disease and extracellular vesicles/exosomes as novel circulating biomarkers in chronic lung disease.

Dr. Sundar is a member of the American Thoracic Society. He serves within the program and planning committee of ATS Assemblies: Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology, Respiratory Structure and Function and Allergy, Immunology and Inflammation. Additionally, he recently joined the Society of Toxicology as a professional member and will be actively involved within the Central State SOT chapter in the forthcoming years.

Danny Welch portraitDanny R. Welch, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair, Department of Cancer Biology
Associate Director for Basic Sciences and Education, University of Kansas Cancer Center

Dr. Welch’s lab focuses on understanding cancer metastasis, the attribute of cancer cells responsible for >90% of cancer deaths. There are multiple projects related to understanding how metastasis suppressor genes prevent the development of lung metastases.

Working closely with graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, PBF fellows will have the opportunity to learn advanced molecular biology, biochemistry, cell culture and in vivo techniques. Examples include: (1) using ex vivo cultures to mimic metastasis suppressor-induced dormancy to define the molecules responsible for melanoma metastasis; (2) assessment of the capacity of fragments of metastasis suppressors to block motility, invasion and metastasis; and, (3) genetic crossing to determine mitochondrial genes that may explain racial disparities in cancer development and aggressiveness.

The Welch lab is currently supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the National Foundation for Cancer Research. 

Jun Zhang portraitJun Zhang, M.D., Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Medical Oncology

Jun Zhang, M.D., Ph.D. is a physician-scientist, principle investigator, and board-certified internist and medical oncologist. Dr. Zhang received his medical degree from the prestigious Xiang-Ya School of Medicine Central South University in China, Ph.D. of Cancer Biology from LSU, a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School and UCSF, and Hematology/Oncology fellowship at Emory University School of Medicine. Dr. Zhang is passionate in frontier scientific discoveries and has ample expertise in bench-to-bedside translation and development of investigator-initiated clinical trials. He has more than 100 publications including those appeared in high-impact journals such as OncogeneCancer ResearchClinical Cancer ResearchJournal of Thoracic OncologyMolecular CancerAnnals of Oncology and Cancer Cell, etc. Dr. Zhang is a member of multiple prestigious organizations including AACR, ASCO, ESMO, IASLC and CAHON where he also served as the Committee Co-chair of Clinical Research.

His research interests include the following broad aspects:

  1. The role of microbiota in the oncogenesis, immune modulation and immunotherapy of lung cancer
  2. Resistant mechanisms in targeted therapies for non-small cell lung cancer harboring driver mutations
  3. Development of innovative interventional and translational trials for various thoracic malignancies.

He is a vital member in leading a multidisciplinary teamwork in both the research and patient care for Thoracic Oncology in KUCC.

"The knowledge and critical thinking skills I acquired during my PDF Summer Fellowship will help me succeed for the rest of my research and professional career. The research presentation day, when I presented my research to highly respected professionals and received feedback on my work, was invaluable and was one of the best academic experiences I have ever had."
Internal Medicine

University of Kansas Medical Center
Internal Medicine
Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine Division
Mailstop 3007
3901 Rainbow Boulevard
Kansas City, KS 66160
Phone: 913-588-6045