If you ask Ioannis Kalampokis, MD, PhD, why he came to Nebraska to join UNMC and Children's Hospital & Medical Center, he doesn't hesitate to swing for the fences.
"The ultimate goal is to solve the issue of pediatric rheumatology care for the state of Nebraska," said Dr. Kalampokis, who is the new division chief of pediatric rheumatology. "That means, to establish a way that the state of Nebraska will always have providers for pediatric rheumatology care."
Dr. Kalampokis, who joined UNMC and Children's earlier this month after four years on the faculty of the University of New Mexico, arrives in Nebraska during a time of evolution in pediatric rheumatology. Prior to the University of New Mexico, he completed his fellowship training in pediatric rheumatology and the PhD program in immunology at Duke University over a seven-year period. He is one of very few physician-scientists in pediatric rheumatology in the nation.
"Pediatric rheumatology care is constantly changing," he said. "There are many new medications and new approaches to treating children. The progress over the last 20 years has been unprecedented."
The possibilities of that progress, along with the resources provided by Children's and UNMC, were important reasons that drew him to Nebraska. Another reason: he saw the state as an area that needed him.
"One of the things that motivates me is an underserved population," he said. "With no pediatric rheumatologist at the Children's Hospital in Omaha, there was a need here."
In addition, both Children's and UNMC are attractive institutions for a physician-scientist, he said.
"Children's is a very well-known children's hospital -- nationally ranked -- and has a lot of services in relation to children's care," he said. "UNMC has a great deal of resources and many scientists doing serious research work in a variety of fields that can potentially relate to my interests. In addition, I enjoy teaching very much, and I love to be involved in graduate education with medical students and residents."
As the new division chief, he has concrete steps planned for how to address Nebraska's pediatric rheumatology care shortage.
His goal is to create an Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education-approved pediatric rheumatology fellowship program -- something that he calls "the proven method" for addressing a state's clinical needs.
To begin, he will establish a pediatric rheumatology clinic at Children's.
Then, he will need at least three pediatric rheumatologists in his division.
"We have already hired the second one, and she is starting in September," he said. "We are close to hiring a third one. So that critical mass of providers, it looks like we'll accomplish that in no more than a year after my arrival, possibly by the end of the current calendar year.
"Working with my UNMC and Children's colleagues, we will build an academic operation and a critical volume in the clinic with patients," he said.
And when all the pieces are in place: "We will then establish the training program."
As a researcher, Dr. Kalampokis is interested in how environmental exposures and lifestyle-related factors, such as diet and exercise, relate to the immune system, and how those factors also play a role either in preventing autoimmunity or helping with current treatment approaches.
"This is a field that is extremely understudied, unfortunately, because it doesn't have any profit potential," he said. "Although in my opinion, it has huge profit potential in terms of population health and social well-being."
He already has begun a collaboration with Nora Sarvetnick, PhD, director of the regenerative medicine program at UNMC, and is excited about the possibility to working with Nikolaos Stergiou, PhD, and the biomechanics research team of the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
"Dr. Kalampokis is a very intelligent scientist who is eager to incorporate biomechanics to study the effects of pediatric rheumatology on movement," Dr. Stergiou said. "We hope that our world-class facilities and researchers at the UNO Biomechanics Research Building will help him to make groundbreaking scientific discoveries in this area."
"People should know that I am big on collaboration," Dr. Kalampokis said. "What drives not only scientific progress but even human evolution is collaboration and not competition. If any scientist, any clinician, anybody is interested in collaborating with the division of pediatric rheumatology, I am more than happy to explore the possibilities."
Welcome to Omaha!
The Department of Pediatrics is thrilled to have Dr. Kalampokis leading the Rheumatology Division. His vision for clinical service and a research program, along with his enthusiasm for patient care and education, will ensure that pediatric rheumatology will grow and flourish.
Welcome, Ioannis! So glad you are here. We would be interested in exploring some joint clinics. Teri