Through her research, Susanna McColley, ’85 MD, professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Pulmonary Medicine, helps children born with cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening genetic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. As associate director of the Cystic Fibrosis Center at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago and deputy director for clinical research at the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute, McColley’s work touches many aspects of the disease, from improving screening and diagnoses to enrolling patients in trials testing new therapies.
What are your research interests?
My research focus is cystic fibrosis (CF) in children. I use prospective databases to assess risk factors for worse outcomes, help with development of biomarkers and develop and conduct clinical trials. I have a particular interest in health disparities in minority children with CF. I am also involved in quality improvement and quality improvement research; currently my focus is improving the newborn screening process for cystic fibrosis to achieve earlier and more accurate diagnosis.
What is the ultimate goal of your research?
The goal of my research is that children with cystic fibrosis have normal lives, both as children and as adults. This requires development of better therapies and the application of those therapies to the right person at the right time.
What types of collaborations are you engaged in across campus (and beyond)?
Manu Jain, MD, has been a key collaborator for 20 years. He directs Northwestern Medicine’s Adult Cystic Fibrosis Program, and we have long-standing collaborations in translational research and clinical trials. We have had numerous collaborations in diverse departments including the Microbiology-Immunology and Psychiatry. Many of the advances in CF are only possible due to great national and international partnerships, and I have many collaborators in the US and Europe.
How did you become interested in this area of research?
I became interested in cystic fibrosis as a student at Feinberg in the early 1980s. At that time, the cause of CF was unknown. It was a multi-system disease with a very high childhood mortality rate; there were very few adults with CF. There was a lot of research needed and a great chance to make an impact. My interest led me to enter the then brand-new field of pediatric pulmonology.
Who makes up your research team and what role does each individual play in your research?
My research team includes faculty collaborators, research coordinators, nurse practitioners, respiratory therapists and our entire clinical staff at the Cystic Fibrosis Center at Lurie Children’s. Research is part of the continuum of care; it’s important to give patients and families access to clinical trials, and many of our studies are embedded in clinical care.
Which honors are you most proud of and why?
I’m actually most proud that our CF Center at Lurie Children’s, and Northwestern has received the Quality Care Award from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation during our last two eligible cycles. The teamwork involved in both the care of the patients and the research is phenomenal.
What do you enjoy about mentoring young scientists in the lab?
I enjoy mentoring clinical and translational researchers in both research processes and career strategies. It’s energizing to work with young investigators who are beginning to build a body of work.