California Researchers

Each year, the American Lung Association in California provide significant funding to support groundbreaking research right here in our state. This money supports basic and clinical research through training and "seed" grants for beginning researchers. These grants play a critical role in attracting and retaining talented scientists who are focused on lung research.

Many of our young scientists become award-winning researchers in the field of lung disease.
The American Lung Association also funds the Asthma Clinical Research Center (ACRC) in San Diego, part of the nation's largest network of clinical research centers dedicated to asthma treatment research. The ACRC conducts important clinical trials to improve asthma management and treatment.

Please take a moment to learn more about our talented researchers below.

Lung Cancer 

trever-bivonaTrever Bivona, MD, PhD
(University of California, San Francisco)

"This is a watershed moment in the history of cancer treatment research," said Dr. Bivona. A growing number of lung cancer patients are being treated with drugs that target the genetic cause of their lung cancer, known as personalized medicine. Yet while patients may respond quickly, they often become resistant to treatment.

Dr. Bivona's research is focused on lung cancers that are associated with a particular mutation in a gene called EGFR. Patients with this type of lung cancer are treated with a drug called erlotinib (Tarceva), which blocks the mutant form of EGFR. While the treatment induces tumor regression, the cancers develop resistance to the drug. Dr. Bivona hopes to understand how lung cancer becomes resistant to erlotinib. Research awarded for 2012-2014.

sergei-grandoSergei Grando, MD, PhD, DSCI
(University of California, Irvine)

Identifying the mechanisms by which tobacco leads to the cancerous transformation of lung cells may prove useful in preventing lung cancer. Dr. Grando will investigate nicotine-induced changes of binding of a hormone-like molecule called acetylcholine to its receptors on lung cells, called nicotine acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). Dr. Grando will determine if specific drugs that can block the ability of cancer-causing tobacco byproducts called nitrosamines to bind to lung nAChRs can also decrease their cancer-causing effect on lung cancer and lung tumor development in mice.

The results of this research will contribute to a better understanding of the way in which tobacco leads to cancer, and open a door for new approaches to treatments that will interfere in this process.

chen-hua-chuangChen-Hua Chuang, PhD
(Stanford University)

It is unclear as to how lung cancer cells gain the ability to invade into surrounding tissue, spread to distant organs and successfully form metastases. Dr. Chuang will characterize the gene expression changes that drive lung cancer invasion and metastasis by assigning a unique barcode ID to every tumor cell to allow the easy connection of the primary lung cancer to the metastases it produced. Research awarded for 2013-2015.


monte-winslowMonte Winslow, PhD
(Stanford University)

Metastases of lung cancer is a major barrier to successful therapy and survival. Using a genetically-engineered mouse model, in which tumors are initiated by genetic mutations similar to those that occur in the human disease, Dr. Winslow and team will attempt to determine whether disseminated tumor cells are present in the pleural fluid and blood of mice with very high numbers of early lung cancer lesions. This will allow the researchers to further understand the factors which limitor promote metastasis of lung cancer. Research awarded for 2013-2015.

Asthma and Air Pollution

roger-tsienRoger Tsien, PhD
(University of California, San Diego)

Dr. Tsien is a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry who is using his expertise to bring a new perspective to the study of asthma. He is the first recipient of the American Lung Association/American Asthma Foundation Senior Investigator Award, given to a non-pulmonologist conducting novel and innovative research on asthma. Dr. Tsien will be focusing on the work of proteases, which are ubiquitous enzymes involved in many biological processes including the inflammation that underlies asthma.

Little is known about precisely when and where different proteases become active in asthma. Dr. Tsien will use an imaging technique already developed for cancer and apply it to proteases to better understand how they are involved in asthma. The development of agents to target these enzymes for the treatment of asthma requires knowledge of exactly where, when, and how they act in the lung. Dr. Tsien's research, which will be conducted in an animal model, aims to answer these questions. Findings from the study could be applied to human patients for diagnosis and potentially for the evaluation of new treatments for asthma. Research awarded for 2011-2014.

mallar-bhattacharyaMallar Bhattacharya, MD
(University of California, San Francisco)

Current therapies for asthma are effective in many circumstances, but the number of patients who die from asthma attacks remains unacceptably high. In an asthma attack, the airways of the lung constrict because of the contraction of a type of muschle known as smooth muscle. Using a mouse model of human asthma, Dr. Bhattacharya will study airway hyper responsiveness, or oversensitivity. He has identified a protein that appears to blunt the constrictive response of smooth muscle when it is triggered by a substance called acetylcholine. By broadening the understanding of smooth muscle contraction, Dr. Bhattacharya hopes to identify new pathways that could lead to novel treatments for airway constriction in asthma. Research awarded for 2012-2014.

taylor-doherty Taylor Doherty, MD
(University of California, San Diego)

Many people with asthma have worsening inflammation in their lungs after exposure to allergy triggers. One particular mold allergen, Alternaria, has been associated with severe asthma, including life-threatening attacks. Dr. Doherty has evidence that a recently discovered white blood cell type in the lung, called a natural helper cell, may be very important in establishing lung inflammation and oversensitivity of the airways after exposure to Alternaria.

Dr. Doherty will test the importance of natural helper cells in an animal model of asthma, and determine ways that the immune system reacts in the lung after exposure to Alternaria. This research will help in the understanding of immune system responses in asthma, and perhaps lead to the discovery of therapeutic targets. Research awarded for 2012-2014.

Influenza, Pneumonia, and Other Lung Infections

deborah-weide-hendricksDeborah Weide Hendricks, PhD
(University of California, San Francisco)

When a cell is infected with a virus, natural killer cells (NK) respond rapidly, producing proteins that kill the cell directly or that helps other immune cells fight the virus. Recent studies have indicated that NK cells recognize certain viruses, and that they may "remember" their first encounter with a virus and provide better protection during the next infection. These qualities make vaccinations possible.

Dr. Hendricks will study the function and characteristics of these NK cells during parainfluenza virus infection, a highly transmissible respiratory infection that is responsible for widespread illness especially among children, older adults, and those with suppressed immune systems. Ultimately, Dr. Hendricks hopes to translate the knowledge she gains from this research into better treatments for respiratory infections.
Research awarded for 2012-2014.

vinicio-dejesus-perezVinicio DeJesus Perez, MD
(Stanford University)

Not much is known regarding the origin of Idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension (IPAH), a devastating disorder associated with the progressive increase in pulmonary pressure resulting from loss and impaired regeneration of small blood vessels. It has been postulated that failure of pericytes, a highly specialized blood vessel cell which helps to promote small vessel maturation and survival, leads to vascular dysfunction. This research will attempt to determine the role these blood vessel cells have in the origin of IPAH. Research awarded for 2013-2015.

Asthma Clinical Research Center
(University of California, San Diego)

Smoking Asthmatics Pilot Study (SAPS)
Co-Funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

About 20% of all people with asthma smoke. Smokers are consistently excluded from therapeutic trials for asthma. As a result, current asthma treatment guidelines may not be appropriate for smokers. Indeed, there is good evidence that inhaled corticosteroids, the mainstay for treating persistent asthma, are less effective in smokers. The SAPS trial is designed to test the feasibility of a large scale clinical trial looking at the four main therapeutic options for asthmatic patients who still smoke and are not well controlled on standard asthma therapy. Smoking cessation remains the primary strategy for treating these patients, but this study represents an important step in improving care for that significant population of individuals with asthma for whom smoking cessation remains a struggle.

"The treatment of asthma in patients who are smokers is an understudied area," said Joe Ramsdell, MD, (University of California, San Diego), SAPS Lead PI. "It is hoped that our study will lead to improved asthma care for smokers."

Learn more about the American Lung Association Research Program here.