NRI Doctor appointed Special
Assistant to the President for Biodefense/
White House Homeland Security Council
Dr. Rajeev Venkayya is the Special Assistant to the President
for Biodefense at the White House Homeland Security Council. Appointed
by President Bush in May 2005, he directs the development of policies
to prevent, protect and respond to bioterrorism and naturally
occurring biological threats such as avian influenza and SARS,
as well as the medical consequences of weapons of mass destruction.
His office is responsible for coordination U.S. Government preparedness
and response activities for pandemic influenza, including the
development of the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza and
the recently-released Implementation Plan.
Dr. Venkayya received his M.D. degree in 1991 from the 6-year
combined B.S./M.D. program at the Northeastern Ohio Universities
College of Medicine. He completed his residency at the University
of Michigan in 1994, and remained there as a Chief Medical Resident
from 1994-95. He then began his fellowship in Pulmonary &
Critical Care Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco,
where continued as a member of the faculty in 1999. Dr. Venkayya
is based at San Francisco General Hospital, where he is the Co-Director
of the Medical Intensive Care Unit and the Director of the High-Risk
Asthma Clinic. He is a member of the Lung Biology Center, where
he investigates mechanisms of airway hyperresponsiveness using
a murine model of asthma.
Dr. Venkayya was a Director for Biodefense and Health at the
White House Homeland Security Council from October 2003 to May
2005, and played a significant role in the development of U.S.
Government policies in biosecurity, biosurveillance, public health
and medical preparedness, and the National Biodefense Strategy.
Prior to his positions at the Homeland Security Council, Dr.
Venkayya was one of thirteen individuals appointed by President
Bush to the non-partisan White House Fellowship program from 2002-03.
As a White House Fellow, he worked with Secretary Spencer Abraham
at the Department of Energy as an advisor on science and technology,
and interacted with leaders across government and the public and
Dr. Venkayya founded two companies while at UCSF: Sapient Medical
Group, Inc., a physician services corporation, and Neomedicus,
LLC, a medical technology consulting and design firm. Through
Neomedicus, he created “What’s Asthma All About?”
a web-based movie that has been used for asthma education by hundreds
of thousands of people around the globe.
I am interested in understanding the events that lead to the
airway narrowing found in asthma. To investigate these processes,
I use a modification of a murine model of asthma. Traditional
allergic models of asthma require the sensitization of naïve
mice with antigens such as ovalbumin or Aspergillus culture extract.
These protocols induce significant eosinophil-rich airway inflammation
that is associated with airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR), which
is a hallmark of the human disease of asthma. The complexity of
airway inflammation found in these models, however, makes it difficult
to identify specific pathways that lead to AHR.
Lymphocytes have been shown to be critically important for the
development of AHR in these models. Understanding this, we have
worked to identify specific lymphocyte mediators that might act
directly upon resident airway cells such as epithelial cells or
smooth muscle cells to induce AHR. Our investigations began with
the finding that Th2 lymphocyte-conditioned medium could rapidly
induce AHR when administered to the airways of naïve mice,
in the absence of significant airway inflammation. More recently,
we have confirmed that the cytokines IL-4 and IL-13 are required
for this effect. Our current investigations are focused on the
downstream events that result in AHR.
I have maintained a significant interest in clinical medicine,
and research questions that can only be answered by clinical research.
I began the High-Risk Asthma Clinic at SFGH, in order to address
the needs of this population and to identify a population for
future clinical investigation.