The Promise of Research

ResearchEvery year in the United States, more than 390,000 Americans die of lung disease, making it the third leading cause of death in the country. Lung disease is responsible for one in seven deaths in the U.S. and close to 34 million Americans are living with chronic lung disease such as asthma, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Medical research holds the promise of a better future for people with lung disease and their loved ones.

Since 1915, researchers funded by the American Lung Association have made significant contributions to the fight against lung disease. Thanks directly to this research, premature babies are less likely to die from respiratory distress syndrome; death rates for tuberculosis are at an all-time low and individuals young and old benefit from improved treatment options such as lung transplants, oxygen therapy and genetically-based medicines.

Research in the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest
Each year, we raise nearly one million dollars to fund the best and brightest researchers in the country.

This money funds our Asthma Clinical Research Center (ACRC) in Chicago and Indianapolis, part of the nation’s largest network of clinical research centers dedicated to asthma treatment research. The ACRC network conducts large clinical trials to find solutions on how to improve asthma management and treatments.

  • Illinois Consortium
    Chicago, Illinois
    PI: Lewis Smith, MD
    Northwestern University
  • St. Vincent Health
    Indianapolis, Indiana
    PI: Michael Busk, MD


Basic, Clinical and Behavioral Research
The American Lung Association also supports basic and clinical research through training and “seed” grants for beginning researchers, which play a critical role in attracting and retaining talented scientists who are focused on lung research. Many of our young researchers go on to become award-winning researchers in the field of lung disease.

Meet Our American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest Researchers

Gregory Mark GauthierGREGORY MARK GAUTHIER, MD (University of Wisconsin, Madison)
Biomedical Research Grant Worldwide, dimorphic fungi (fungi that have two different forms) are the most common cause of invasive fungal infection. These fungi grow as mold in soil and produce infectious particles called spores. When the soil is disrupted, spores enter the air and can be inhaled into the lungs. Once inside humans’ warmer lungs, the spores convert into round, budding yeast to cause pneumonia. Dr. Gauthier and his team will examine how these fungi sense temperature and convert between mold and yeast forms, allowing these organisms to cause human infection. He will attempt to uncover the genes that regulate the switch between mold and yeast in the fungi. The results have the potential to help identify novel antifungal drug targets and drugs which are desperately needed.

Ruchi GuptaRUCHI GUPTA, MD, MPH (Northwestern University, Chicago)
Social Behavioral Research Grant Asthma among youth in Chicago is a serious problem. Dr. Gupta will implement and evaluate an updated version of the Student Media-based Asthma Research Team (SMART) program in two Chicago public middle schools with varying asthma prevalence. One school is located in a community with high asthma prevalence and the other in a community with low asthma prevalence. Past research has shown that teens with asthma may experience social pressures which contribute to poor asthma management and severity. The updated version of SMART will hopefully empower students to identify, understand and address the factors impacting asthma in their community. If the program is found to be effective, it is hoped that a standardized implementation toolkit can be developed to be used in all Chicago public schools and beyond.

Gee LauGEE LAU, PhD (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL)
DeSouza Research Award Funded by the American Lung Association of the Southwest Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PA) is an important pathogen infecting the lungs of patients with cystic fibrosis and other forms of bronchiectasis. Dr. Lau and his team have determined that PA secretes a toxin called pyocyanin, which causes oxidative stress and alters immune response in diseased lungs, causing an exaggerated inflammatory response and worsened mucus overproduction. His team is now examining whether pyocyanin inactivates a protein known as FoxA2 that inhibits the excess mucus secretion in bronchiectatic and asthmatic lungs and if so, identify the determinants behind it. It is hoped that this research will lead to the development of novel therapeutics that maintain FoxA2 function and improve morbidity and mortality.

Narsa MachireddyNARSA MACHIREDDY, PhD (University of Illinois, Chicago)
Biomedical Research Grant Acute lung injury (ALI) and its most severe form, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), are common pulmonary syndromes affecting approximately 190,000 patients per year in the United States. Oxygen supplementation is widely used to support critically ill patients with ALI/ARDS; however, it can cause cell death and exacerbate preexisting lung injury and inflammation. Dr. Machireddy and team will attempt to target the pathway r(bZIP) transcription factor, which is critical for the stimulation of genes involved in the protection against toxic and oxidant insults and limits oxygen-induced lung injury and inflammation in critically ill patients.

Joshua MezrichJOSHUA MEZRICH, MD (University of Wisconsin, Madison)
Biomedical Research Grant Research has shown that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) may be responsible for aggravating asthma through the activation of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR). This activation leads to the generation of a pathogenic population of T cells that generates IL-17, which in turn, worsen airway inflammation in some models. Dr. Mezrich and his team believe that this represents a new, very specific mechanism for airway inflammation in response to pollution. Their goal is to prove this mechanism is dependent on the AHR in T cells in murine models of airway inflammation, to identify whether PAHs are causing this effect and also show that they can block or at least reduce this inflammatory response by modulating the response of the AHR on these T cells.

Valerie PressVALERIE PRESS, MD, MPH (University of Chicago, Chicago)
Social Behavioral Research Grant Research has shown that a majority of patients with asthma and COPD do not use their respiratory inhaler devices correctly and, therefore, are at risk of not being able to get the medications into their lungs. While the hospital setting is a good opportunity to identify patients who need education on how best to take their medicines, limited staff resources can be a barrier. This research will determine if a video-based education module called INVITE Home could be effective as a learning tool to educate the proper use of respiratory devices in the hospital or at home.

Jessica SierenJESSICA SIEREN, PhD (University of Iowa, Iowa City)
Lung Cancer Discovery Award The risk of lung cancer is significantly higher in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), independent of their smoking history. While chronic inflammation is thought to play a role, it is not known which people affected by COPD are most susceptible to developing lung cancer. Dr. Sieren will use computed tomography (CT) scans to generate anatomic measurements of lung tissue for each lobe of the lung, as well as each airway, down to the very small airway branches. These measurements can be used to identify computed tomography biomarkers for lung cancer risk assessment to guide targeted detection and treatment strategies.

Gutian XiaoGUTIAN XIAO, PhD (University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh)
Lung Cancer Discovery Award Lung cancer’s high death rate is largely due to late diagnosis and the fact that lung cancer easily becomes resistant to chemotherapy. Research has shown that PDLIM2, a widely found protein molecule in the lungs, functions as a tumor suppressor and may also play a critical role in the response of lung cancer to chemother-apy. Dr. Xiao and his team will seek to establish PDLIM2 as a diagnostic and predictive biomarker of human lung cancer, as well as a therapy for lung cancer.

Guofei ZhouGUOFEI ZHOU, PhD (University of Illinois, Chicago)
Biomedical Research Grant Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a devastating disease associated with progressive and irreversible destruction of the lung architecture. The cause of IPF remains largely unknown, even as the annual incidence of IPF is rising. It has been suggested that patients with IPF express increased levels of a certain tumor suppressor protein [VHL] in centers of scarring. This research will attempt to address the regulation of VHL and the causal role of VHL in pulmonary fibrosis.

If you wish to help fund more research or inquire about future research awards or ongoing research, please contact Penny Gottier Fena, Sr. Vice President, American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest, 651-227-8014,