Roger Tsien, Ph.D.

Roger Tsien, Ph.D., is a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry who is using his expertise to bring a new perspective to the study of asthma. Dr. Tsien 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, Professor of Pharmacology and Chemistry & Biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego, will use an imaging technique already developed for cancer and apply it to proteases to better understand how they are involved in asthma.

"We realized this imaging technique had many potential applications to other diseases, including atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, which involves immune cells that are attacking blood vessels," Dr. Tsien says. "It will also apply to asthma, a disease in which immune cells attack lung cells." 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. Eventually, Dr. Tsien says the findings from the study could be applied to human patients for diagnosis and potentially for the evaluation of new treatments for asthma.

"I am hopeful we can make a scientific discovery that could help develop a better understanding of a disease I have experienced personally."

Dr. Tsien is eager to be studying asthma, which he has had since childhood on the East Coast. "I suffered from allergic asthma as a child," he says. "Since growing up and moving to California I don't suffer from allergy-induced asthma anymore, but I can still get exercise-induced asthma, and I carry an inhaler with me at all times. I am hopeful we can make a scientific discovery that could help develop a better understanding of a disease I have experienced personally." Dr. Tsien was a co-recipient of the 2008 Nobel Prize in chemistry, with Osamu Shimomura and Martin Chalfie, for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP. First observed in jellyfish, GFP has been used to develop ways to watch processes that were previously invisible, such as the development of nerve cells in the brain or how cancer cells spread. "That work, like my asthma research, was also related to imaging biological processes," he says. The American Lung Association/American Asthma Foundation Senior Investigator Award is a three-year award valued at $250,000 per year.

Click here to read Dr. Tsien's autobiography.