Meet Sri Lankan Researcher —Chamindu Gunatilaka

What are you currently working on or worked on before?

My current research focuses on investigating the breathing effort of newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit (ICU). Preterm babies diagnosed with tracheomalacia (medical condition) have narrow airways and the airway collapses during breathing. As a result, infants with tracheomalacia require oxygen or mechanical ventilation to support their breathing.

We use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to capture airway motion throughout the breathing cycle and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations are performed to model airflow in the airway to calculate the work of breathing. My recently published article shows the impact of airway motion on the work of breathing in preterm babies.

What encouraged you to pursue your research topic?

I was involved in several projects when I joined my research group at the University of Cincinnati / Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. CFD was one of the techniques that I started using and is currently applied as a diagnostic tool in cardiovascular medicine.

However, CFD is not clinically available to perform in respiratory medicine yet. This motivated me to pick this research topic and I believe that I can make a huge impact in this field by helping clinicians to make surgical decisions.

Where do you find your best inspiration for your work?

Research isn’t easy and you need to concentrate. I find my inspiration by looking at the big picture of my work. Since I’m studying the breathing effort of neonatal ICU babies, I know how important my research is and it always inspires me.

What’s one of your biggest personal achievements so far?

I received John Caffey Award for Best Clinical Research Paper for the year 2020 from the Society for Pediatric Radiology, USA. You can find it along with all my other publications here.

What lessons would you share with a budding researcher?

First of all, you need to have a thorough understanding of the basics. My background is in Physics and I had no prior knowledge of the neonatal respiratory system when I began research on infant airways. However, I was able to fill in the gaps quickly.

Secondly, you should never give up. You may face many obstacles throughout your research career, but you should be determined to overcome all issues.

What motivated you to be a researcher?

I’m passionate about learning new skills and solving problems. As a researcher, I have the opportunity to face new challenges every day and it keeps me motivated.

According to your opinion, what are the changes that the Sri Lankan education system needs to do, in order to meet the requirement of the international industry and academia?

The Sri Lankan education system does a much better job in terms of theoretical knowledge but it is lacking in research. If you look at developed countries, they give priority to research. Hence, Sri Lankan universities must receive more funding and facilities to conduct research. If there is a chance, I will definitely contribute in every way possible to help build research in Sri Lanka?

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