Our History

Until 1968, most patient care and research in pulmonary medicine by the faculty of the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center was carried out in the Columbia Division at Bellevue Hospital where Drs. André Cournand and Dickinson Richards developed the Cardiopulmonary Laboratory during the 1930s and won the Nobel Prize in 1956. Their initial efforts produced what has since become the standard methodology for characterizing respiratory function. They then proceeded to explore normal physiology and the abnormalities generated by disease.

Historical photo of Columbia University Irving Medical Center

The defining abnormalities of chronic airway disease and of diffuse diseases of the lung interstitium (as well as their impact on respiratory gas exchange and on the pulmonary circulation and right heart) were described in collaboration with Drs. R.M. Harvey, M.I. Ferrer, W.A. Briscoe, H.W. Fritts, and their fellows. Innovations in the management of respiratory failure were introduced that have since become standard therapies. The technique of lung morphometry was developed by Drs. D. Gomez and E. Weibel.

Dr. R.M. Harvey

Following the restructuring of the academic affiliations of Bellevue Hospital in 1968, the activities of the Columbia pulmonary faculty moved to Washington Heights and the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. The Pulmonary Division was led there initially by Dr. R.M. Harvey and included many of the former Bellevue group. Dr. Yale Enson conducted studies of the chemical control of the pulmonary circulation and of the vasomotor induction of pulmonary hypertension in airway disease, of methods for characterizing changes in pulmonary vascular resistance, and of the hemodynamics of interstitial lung disease. Dr. P.R.B. Caldwell and colleagues purified angiotensin-converting enzyme and demonstrated its vascular endothelial membrane localization. Dr. D.F. Rochester examined diaphragmatic work, oxygen consumption, and blood flow and developed the concept of respiratory muscle fatigue. Dr. N. Braun examined respiratory function in neuromuscular disease. Dr. R. Cole elucidated the role of myoglobin in oxygen transport to and utilization by skeletal muscle. Dr. H. Thomas examined vasomotion in shunt pathways produced by resorption atelectasis, as well as its control.

Dr. P.R.B. Cadwell

Dr. Caldwell became director of the Division in 1983, and the techniques and methodologies of cell and molecular biology achieved a more prominent role in the Division's activities. Dr. Paul Rothman assumed direction of an ever-expanding Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine in 1997. This appointment marked the beginning of a major effort to expand the clinical and basic research programs of the Division. Dr. Rothman's research centered on cytokine signaling and the role of cytokines in lymphocyte development. He opened the Laboratory of Allergy and Inflammatory Lung Diseases to study airway inflammation and oncogenesis. Dr. Neil Schluger joined the Division as Clinical Chief in 1998. 

Dr. Neil Schluger

In 2005, Dr. Schluger was appointed as Chief of the Division and continued his research into the epidemiology, diagnosis, and treatment of tuberculosis infection and disease. Under Dr. Schluger’s leadership the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine continued to grow. Dr. Byron Thomashow developed and serves as the Medical Director of the Jo-Ann F. LeBuhn Center for Chest Disease and Respiratory Failure. Through this Center, the Division participated in the NIH-sponsored National Emphysema Therapy Trial, the NIH-sponsored study of lung volume reduction surgery as a treatment for emphysema as well as the recent establishment of the Price Family Comprehensive Center for Chest Disease, which is a joint activity with the Division of Thoracic Surgery.

Dr. Christine Garcia

In 2020, Christine Garcia was appointed Chief of the Division. Dr. Garcia’s research focuses on identifying the genetic underpinnings of adult-onset lung disease. Her laboratory has used whole-genome linkage analysis and next-generation sequencing to discover rare mutations in several genes (TERT, TERC, SFTPA2, PARN, RTEL1, FLCN) in patients with interstitial lung disease. Under Dr. Garcia’s leadership the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine division grew further with the development of an Interventional Pulmonology Program and a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Taskforce.