Anasuya Sarkar, PhD

Biomedical Research Grant: Targeting Protein that Causes Death in Lung Lining May Lead to ARDS Treatment

Many patients in the ICU with sepsis, major trauma or shock suffer from acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a dangerous condition with no effective treatment. Anasuya Sarkar, PhD, is searching for an explanation of how ARDS develops. She hopes that understanding how a particular protein called caspase-1 injures lung cells in ARDS will one day lead to a treatment for this devastating disease.

With an American Lung Association Biomedical Research Grant, Dr. Sarkar is studying how caspase-1 injures a layer of cells lining the lungs called the epithelium. Damage to this layer of cells leads to infection and a downhill slide for ARDS patients. "We want to understand how injury to these cells happens and what we can do to prevent it," Dr. Sarkar says.

Caspases are found inside immune system cells called macrophages, which fight infection. "We think the macrophages are packaging caspases in tiny particles and using them like a gun to kill damaged epithelial cells in the lung, which leads to lung damage," she says. "This process of fighting infection is good at the beginning, but when this cell death continues it can cause life-threatening lung damage." Dr. Sarkar is examining the way in which caspase-1 sends signals to epithelial cells. "If we can find the exact mechanism of these cell signaling pathways, it may be possible to develop drugs that block these killing pathways to stop the lung cell injury," she says.

"The American Lung Association grant is extremely beneficial in supporting me as I start my research," Dr. Sarkar says. "The data I gather from this project will allow me to expand it, and seek bigger funding."