Michael Welsh is a global leader for cystic fibrosis

Michael Welsh (74MD, 77R) is recognized internationally for his pioneering work on the fundamental biology of cystic fibrosis (CF). His landmark discoveries have led to new, life-saving therapies that correct the defects of the genetic disorder. 

In February, Welsh was one of four researchers to receive the 21st annual Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences for discoveries leading to the creation of CF treatments that have improved—and extended—the lives of patients living with CF. Welsh also previously earned the 2022 Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine prize—one of the most internationally prestigious awards in science. 

Welsh, professor of internal medicine in the Carver College of Medicine, director of the Pappajohn Biomedical Institute, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, has been at Iowa for almost his entire career, leading groups of scientists studying lung biology and CF for more than 40 years.  

In this image from the 1980s, Welsh explains his research to former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (left), and former UI President Hunter Rawlings. During this time, Welsh first demonstrated that CF disrupts chloride ion movement across the lining of the lung’s airways, damaging the lung’s ability to clear out harmful bacteria.  

After the identification of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene in 1989, Welsh and his team made key discoveries to better understand the product of this gene—the CFTR protein—and its role in allowing chloride to move in and out of cells. They showed how mutations in the gene and the CFTR protein cause cells to malfunction and fuel disease development. Importantly, they showed that defects in the mutated gene can be repaired in cells, paving the way for new treatments.  

“I appreciate the recognition that the arc leading to effective therapies begins with description of a disease, progresses through discovery of fundamental mechanisms, and proceeds through development of treatments," Welsh says. "I feel so fortunate for the opportunities I have had."