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Meet UNMC Distinguished Scientist Debra Romberger, M.D.

UNMC researcher Debra Romberger, M.D., answers questions about her work, life and interests.

NOTE: This profile is part of a series to highlight the 23 researchers who will be honored May 22 at a ceremony for UNMC's 2011 Scientist Laureate, Distinguished Scientist and New Investigator award recipients.

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Debra Romberger, M.D.
  • Name: Debra Romberger, M.D.
  • Title: Professor and vice chairwoman of research in the department of internal medicine and assistant chief of staff for research at Omaha's VA medical center
  • Joined UNMC: 1990
  • Hometown: Abilene, Kan.

Describe your research in laymen's terms.

We study how dusts from agricultural work environments cause lung disease. We seek to understand the mechanisms that explain why dusts cause inflammation in the airways and the components of dusts that are responsible for causing injury and inflammation. In addition, we study whether there are genetic risks that make some persons working in agricultural environments more susceptible to disease.

How do you want your research to translate to benefit patients?

Our overall goal in studying the mechanisms of inflammation caused by dust is to better target treatments for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) -- or lung disease -- that occurs in those working in agriculture. COPD is related to smoking in many people but it is related to occupational exposures -- such as farming -- in more than 20 percent of cases. In addition, understanding the many components of dust that cause problems can allow us to develop better preventive strategies for managing dust. While wearing a mask with dusty work is one preventive approach -- and we encourage this -- it is not always practical or feasible and reducing the most damaging components of dust is another approach.

What is the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you, professional or personal?

Make choices that help you follow your passion.

List three things few people know about you.

  • I didn't go to kindergarten (it didn't exist until two years later in the rural community where I grew up).
  • I made a "microscope" in elementary school for a science project
  • I played flute in marching band in college at Kansas State University.

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