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Leading the Way

Wolfgang Kuebler guides APS through a complex time in scholarly publishing, as the Society’s new publications chair.
By Christina Hernandez Sherwood

Open access. Artificial intelligence. Reader interaction. For Wolfgang Kuebler, PhD, MD, FAPS, who began his three-year term as APS publications chair in April, the rapidly changing landscape of scholarly publishing presents both challenges and opportunities.

“It’s really a fascinating time to work on publishing,” says Kuebler, chair and professor in the Institute of Physiology at Charité–Universitätsmedizin Berlin, one of the largest university hospitals in Europe. “I’m thrilled to be in a position to witness that.”

Kuebler, whose own translational research has been published in several of the Society’s 16 journals, will shepherd the APS portfolio of research publications through a complex time in scholarly publishing. As advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) continue to grow, Kuebler and the APS Publications Committee crafted an updated policy for APS journals that explicitly outlines how chatbots can, and cannot, be used. (The OpenAI chatbot ChatGPT, for instance, cannot be listed as a co-author.) The policy was approved in May.

By the time Kuebler’s term ends in April 2026, research journals will be entering the brave new world of open access. The U.S. federal government requirement to make publicly funded research immediately available to readers will be in effect by then. 

Public dollars fund most research published in APS journals, Kuebler says, so under open access, readers will be able to view most of the journals’ articles without a subscription. This is a shift that will potentially affect the publication program’s revenue streams, but it will also provide access to the newest scientific information to researchers around the globe.

“The mission is for APS journals to embrace the opportunities that now come with a changing publishing landscape.”

It will be up to Kuebler—who previously served one year as chair-elect under the outgoing chair, David Gutterman, MD, FAPS—and the 12 members of the APS Publications Committee to grapple with what these changes will mean for the Society.

“The mission is for APS journals to embrace the opportunities that now come with a changing publishing landscape,” Kuebler says. “We have to navigate APS to be at the forefront of this change without losing our identity and our mandate, which is to serve our Society and to serve our discipline.”

Disseminating Science Differently

For Kuebler, steering APS through changes in scholarly publishing will likely mean a combination of maintaining traditions and embracing modernity.

a family of four smile in front of a waterfall
Kuebler with his wife, Wenqing, and daughters, Sophie and Julie.

The traditional journal model—in which authors submit their work, the journal’s experts review it, and it is published or declined—is unlikely to vanish anytime soon, he says. “We need vetting of science,” Kuebler says. “I’m a strong believer that it wouldn’t be helpful for science if we just put everything out there and said, ‘Let everybody determine what is right or wrong.’ We need some sort of authority.”

At the same time, changes like open access will force a shift in the way readers interact with scholarly work. This means, for instance, thinking about how readers can comment on journal articles. “Change is often considered as a threat,” Kuebler says. “And I agree we have to think about it carefully. But I think there has to be change. We also have to embrace the modern times.”

These issues will affect Kuebler directly. A medical doctor by training—though his 14- and 18-year-old daughters claim he’s not “a real doctor” because he hasn’t treated patients since before they were born—Kuebler now focuses on translational physiology research. His recent publication credits include Cell, Science Translational Medicine and Physiological Reviews. 

“Scholarly publishing to me is an essential part of the generation of knowledge in science,” he says. “It is not only the dissemination of new findings and ideas but also their critique and vetting by your peers, which is an essential critical step in the generation of knowledge. And, of course, it is ultimately a recognition of all the hard work your trainees, your co-workers and collaborators, and yourself put in to develop this knowledge.”

The Beauty of the Lung

As Kuebler crafted his PhD thesis in the early 1990s, he worked in a laboratory at the Institute of Surgical Research at the University of Munich specializing in microcirculation. “It was imaging of real-life scenarios, usually in animals, of how the blood flows through the tissue and how blood cells interact with the vessel wall,” he says. “That technique was fascinating for me because you could see in real time how physiology was unfolding.”

A large group posed assembled in three rows in front of some classic brick campus buildings
Kuebler with the joint lab team Kuebler-Szulcek-Grune at the Institute of Physiology in Berlin.

There was much to see in the physiology of the lungs and vascular system. “The lung is a beautiful organ,” he says. “At the same time, it’s very complicated in the way it functions. It has remained a focus of my work ever since.”

Kuebler can even connect his favorite hobby—hiking the Alps along the German-Austrian border—to his scientific passion. “Scientifically,” he says, “the high altitude of the mountains is a fantastic physiological environment to study.”

Kuebler’s research on acute lung injury, specifically the breakdown of the barrier between blood vessels and air sacs that causes fluid to enter the lungs, became strikingly relevant during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kuebler and his team are developing therapeutic concepts, possibly new drugs or existing drugs used in new ways, to prevent or repair barrier leaks.

“Once you can strengthen or rebuild this barrier, it doesn’t matter what virus or bacteria is wreaking havoc in your lungs,” he says. “It doesn’t cause massive lung injury because you maintain this physiological barrier. Barrier protection is a universal concept that would provide general application no matter what the next pandemic is.”

Kuebler’s group also studies potential treatment options for high blood pressure in the lungs that is caused by left heart disease—the most common form of pulmonary hypertension. This work, which sits at the intersection of pulmonology and cardiology, is an ideal area of focus for a physiologist, says Kuebler, the son of a cardiologist.

“Most disciplines are very organ focused and siloed, whereas physiology has the advantage that it’s overarching,” Kuebler says. “Physiology crosses boundaries. It crosses disciplines and organs because it tries to understand how [the body] works. … In some cases, it’s highly molecular biology. In others, it’s a more immunological process. All of it is physiology, and you have to bring that together and work across organs to understand how it works.”

Finding a Home at APS

Kuebler was born and has lived much of his life in Germany, although he has spent a few brief stints in the U.S. He trained at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University in New York. He also completed an eight-year professorship in the University of Toronto Department of Physiology.

Today, Kuebler lives in Berlin and is among the 2,100 APS members who reside outside the U.S. “I’ve always considered APS an international society,” he says, “rather than a national society.”

Kuebler has embraced his new role as APS publications chair during an exciting time in scholarly publishing. But it’s only the latest in his longtime involvement with the Society. An APS member since 1998, he has served in various roles over the years, including as chair of the Respiration Section and chair of the Section Advisory Committee. He is also a fellow of APS.

“It’s my scientific home base,” he says. “I like to be involved. I like to give back because APS has really given me a home for my work and my research.” 

This article was originally published in the September 2023 issue of The Physiologist Magazine.