Katherine Niederer Cahill
Seaver College | 2003
Medical Director of Asthma Clinical Research, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Katherine Cahill is working with a research team to develop the first prospective clinical trial of a routine type 2 diabetes treatment that has shown promising results in adult asthma patients. She has also served as a principal founder and member of the board of directors of the Addis Clinic, an international nonprofit utilizing telemedicine to empower healthcare workers in the developing world.
What does being an honoree of the Outstanding Alumni in Healthcare campaign mean to you?
Selection as an Outstanding Alumni in Healthcare honoree is the recognition that the foundations laid through research, international travel, and community during my time at Pepperdine 20 years ago have given rise to many fruits.
Describe your road to success.
Immediately after graduation from Pepperdine, I drove cross-country to return to my home state of New Jersey to complete my medical degree at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. My clinical training continued in Boston where I completed a residency in Internal Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center followed by a fellowship in Allergy and Immunology at Brigham and Women's Hospital, both affiliated with Harvard Medical School. During my fellowship, I developed a research interest in adult-onset asthma investigating the innate immune mechanisms that drive airway inflammation.
Employing translational research techniques, I investigate how a variety of drugs, repurposed in asthma, reduce airway inflammation. After five years on faculty at Harvard Medical School, I was recruited to Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center as the Medical Director of Asthma Clinical Research. Within a month of moving to Boston, my husband and I met Dr. Stephen and Sol Chan through a community group bible study hosted in their home. After learning about their medical mission trips to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and the medical challenges the communities face, we laid the foundations for The Addis Clinic. In 2011 we registered as a 503c nonprofit and started the hard work of turning an idea into an effective solution to address healthcare inequity and the very limited healthcare resources in the developing world. Our telemedicine efforts were ramping up in 2019 and have grown tremendously in 2020.
Who has helped you achieve success in your career?
My husband who has been by my side since year one of medical school and my mentors at each stage of my training and career have been instrumental in my success. They provide regular feedback on ideas and refocus me when I get distracted by lesser priorities.
Describe a lesson you've learned from a challenging time in your career or life.
Uprooting my family and career in 2018 to move to Nashville, TN was particularly challenging. Restarting a research program from the ground up and establishing community outside of work was overwhelming and isolating in the moment. I learned to set long-term goals and focus on making forward progress towards smaller milestones along the way. The simple pleasures of life such as the hugs I received from my daughters after difficult days at work kept me moving forward.
How do you prepare for a busy day?
Ride my bike to work. I've been bike commuting since 2009 and won't ever go back.
"I learned to set long-term goals and focus on making forward progress towards smaller milestones along the way. The simple pleasures of life such as the hugs I received from my daughters after difficult days at work kept me moving forward."
Katherine Niederer Cahill ('03)
What's next for you?
We are working on a project investigating how metabolic pathways contribute to airway inflammation and asthma and hope to start a clinical trial of a medication currently approved for the treatment of type-2 diabetes in asthma.
For The Addis Clinic, we are focused on expanding our reach in Kenya with a focus on training healthcare workers to improve the quality of care for patients in low-resource settings around the world.
What is one of your hobbies?
Hiking in the Alps.