The research and clinical interests of Robert Vassallo, M.D., focus on the mechanisms by which cigarette smoke and inflammation cause airway and parenchymal lung diseases.
Specifically, Dr. Vassallo's research is focused on understanding how the airways and lung parenchyma become scarred and remodeled in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and certain interstitial lung diseases.
- Mucosal immunity. Dr. Vassallo is working with colleagues at Mayo Clinic to understand how cigarette smoking and e-cigarette exposure promote the development of airway inflammation and scarring that occur in asthma and COPD. This research involves the use of relevant disease models and cellular work.
- Rheumatoid arthritis. Smoking induces certain interstitial lung diseases and promotes the development of rheumatoid arthritis. Dr. Vassallo and his colleagues from Mayo Clinic's Division of Rheumatology and Department of Immunology are studying the mechanisms by which smoking interacts with host genes in the induction of arthritis and lung disease (particularly the lung fibrosis that occurs in some patients with rheumatoid arthritis). Dr. Vassallo is working with Veena Taneja, Ph.D., to study mechanisms by which smoking promotes immune arthritis development using a disease model of collagen-induced arthritis. He also collaborates with Eric L. Matteson, M.D., Daniel J. Tschumperlin, Ph.D., and Dr. Taneja on studies aimed at clarifying the mechanisms by which interstitial lung fibrosis develops in rheumatoid arthritis.
- Pulmonary Langerhans cell histiocytosis. Cigarette smoking also causes pulmonary Langerhans cell histiocytosis, a rare diffuse lung disease that often affects young adults. Through ongoing research efforts with colleagues at Mayo Clinic and other institutions, Dr. Vassallo is trying to understand the natural history, pathogenesis and novel therapeutic targets for this smoking-induced interstitial lung disease.
Significance to patient care
More than a billion people smoke worldwide, and an even greater number of individuals are continually exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke. Understanding specific mechanisms by which cigarette smoke and secondhand smoke cause airway and interstitial lung diseases provides an opportunity to develop new therapies for tobacco-related diseases.