Supporting Research: President's Research Report
A Message from the President
At its heart, medical research is about innovation – blazing new frontiers and finding revolutionary ways to keep lung disease from taking hold or to stop it in its tracks. For more than a century, the American Lung Association has been an incubator of lifesaving innovation. Funding medical research is an essential investment in a healthier future for all Americans, especially the more than 32 million with lung diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis and lung cancer. Through your generous support, innovation today means a healthier tomorrow. In 2017-2018, the American Lung Association Research Team is exploring a multitude of exciting lung health pathways, in search of new ways to prevent, treat and even cure lung diseases. We are investing a total of $6.6 million dollars in research, which includes 73 awards in our Awards and Grants program, and 18 grants for the ongoing work of our Airways Clinical Research Centers.
The core of our research program is made of two unique parts. Our Awards and Grants Program supports researchers at all career levels, with a distinct focus on funding investigators early in their careers, to help foster a commitment to a sustained career in lung disease research. In fact, many researchers who have made significant discoveries in the lung health field got their start through Lung Association funding. And our Airways Clinical Research Centers network is the largest not-for-profit network of clinical research centers in the U.S., dedicated to improving patient care for asthma and COPD.
Our LUNG FORCE initiative to fight lung cancer has enabled us to dramatically increase our funding of lung cancer research. An exciting example is our collaboration with Stand Up To Cancer and the LUNGevity Foundation to co-fund two new research awards. Designed to investigate ways to detect and treat cancer at its earliest, most treatable stages, these awards represent our single-largest investment in lung cancer research to date. In this report, you will also learn about other cutting-edge research we are funding. For example, Erik Jensen, M.D. is searching for better treatments for bronchopulmonary dysplasia, a chronic lung disease that affects 50 percent of surviving extremely preterm babies. And Courtney Sparacino-Watkins, Ph.D. is working to increase our understanding of pulmonary arterial hypertension, a complex condition that causes the pressure in tiny blood vessels in the lungs to dangerously increase.
These and many more innovative and promising research projects are only possible through your enduring support. You can take pride in the fact that your generosity has played an indispensable role in saving lives now and in the future. Our deepest thanks for your commitment. Together we can make lung disease a distant memory.
Harold P. Wimmer
National President and CEO
American Lung Association
Our Research Team Fighting Lung Disease
These pioneering investigators are conducting groundbreaking lung disease research:
ALEXANDROS STRIKOUDIS, PHD
Columbia University, New York, NY
Senior Research Training Fellowship
Alexandros Strikoudis, Ph.D. is using three new scientific technologies to investigate the development of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a devastating disease that leads to lung scarring and currently has no cure. "Combining these new technologies could allow us to find the cause of IPF. This wouldn't have been possible even a few years ago," says Dr. Strikoudis.
Creating a model of the lung is very important in studying IPF, because fibrotic lung cells cannot be grown in a lab; using new technology to direct stem cells to become lung cells, eliminates this problem. He is also using a novel technology to embed those cells into a matrix of connective tissue that allows the lung cells to branch into airways. This method allows him to make 3-D models of both healthy lungs and lungs with fibrosis, and to compare the two to look for differences that will help explain how IPF develops.
Dr. Strikoudis is building multiple lung models of IPF, using six different genetic mutations known to be connected with the disease. This has recently become possible with a third technology that allows researchers to cause specific gene mutations; utilizing the genome editing technology CRISPR-Cas9 to introduce mutations associated with IPF. Dr. Strikoudis says, "This will help us understand how fibrosis works and to identify common cellular mechanisms that cause IPF. Dr. Strikoudis explains. "Once we see which molecules are involved in fibrosis, then we can develop treatments to block those molecules." This groundbreaking research has the potential to lead the way to new therapies. Read more about Dr. Strikoudis's research.
COURTNEY SPARACINO-WATKINS, PHD
University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA
Biomedical Research Grant
Courtney Sparacino-Watkins, Ph.D. is applying her knowledge of biochemistry in a revolutionary way. She is seeking a new understanding of pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), a complex condition in which tiny blood vessels in the lungs become diseased, causing the pressure in those blood vessels to dangerously increase. If successful, her research could lead to innovative,
potentially life-changing new treatments for PAH.
Dr. Sparacino-Watkins became interested in PAH through her study of nitric oxide (NO), a key signaling molecule throughout the human body. NO widens blood vessels, allowing them to carry more blood, and plays a critical role in lowering blood pressure and improves circulation. "We want to understand exactly how NO is produced in the lung's blood vessels so that we can target it with better treatment," she says. “We also want to find new NO-generating compounds."
"Understanding the mechanism regulating the conversion of nitrate and nitrite into NO would have a profound impact on the development of new therapeutics that enhance nitric oxide activity," Dr. Sparacino-Watkins says.
With a Lung Association Biomedical Research Grant, Dr. Sparacino-Watkins is investigating the possibility that a novel human enzyme called mARC-2 is responsible for converting nitrite into nitric oxide. If she can confirm that this enzyme plays a key role in that conversion, it would be an exciting breakthrough, opening the door to exploring whether mARC-2 can be used as therapy for PAH. Read more about Dr. Sparacino-Watkins's research.
ERIK JENSEN, MD, MSCE
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Philadelphia, PA
Clinical Patient Care Research Grant
Erik Jensen, M.D., M.S.C.E treats babies with bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), a chronic lung disease that affects 50 percent of surviving extremely preterm infants. Dr. Jensen says. "It's been many years since we've had a significant advance in preventing or treating BPD, and in babies with the disease, we struggle to treat it."
With a grant from the American Lung Association, Dr. Jensen is studying the role of bacteria in BPD, which he hopes will lead to better treatments. "It's been a natural balance to focus my research on these infants and then care for them at the bedside," he says.
He is now pioneering a study that follows babies as they grow and develop. Instead of examining bacteria cultured from babies' airways, he will study the entire microbiome—the community of bacteria that live in the lungs—of babies who do and do not go on to develop BPD. The microbiome is an exciting field of study that examines the individual "ecosystems" of the body, and in this case, the lungs.
"Because the field of microbiome science is a relatively new one, this research would not have been possible even a few years ago," Dr. Jensen notes. "I believe that understanding and eventually beneficially changing the microbiome is an area in which we can make the next leap forward in BPD." Read more about Dr. Jensen's research.
Research Team Success Story
DAVID BADESCH, MD
University of Colorado Denver
Recipient of American Lung Association Senior Research Training Fellowship – 1988
When David Badesch, M.D. first began studying pulmonary hypertension (PH) in 1987, the average survival time for the disease was less than three years, and there were no FDA-approved treatments. Today, there are 14 approved treatments and the average survival time has greatly increased. Dr. Badesch has helped develop many PH treatments, and says that has been one of the most satisfying aspects of his career.
As a young scientist at the University of Colorado Denver, Dr. Badesch received a research grant from the American Lung Association to study the cellular mechanisms behind PH. "That support from the Lung Association, very early in my career, was so important," says Dr. Badesch.
Currently, Dr. Badesch is the Clinical Director, Pulmonary Hypertension Center, Chair, Pharmacy and Therapeutics at the University of Colorado. An early advocate of the benefits of clinical trials, Dr. Badesch is recognized as a clinical and thought leader, contributing years of experience and knowledge towards advancing new therapeutic options.
"I tell young investigators that a research career requires a lot of patience, but it's incredibly rewarding in the long run. It's so exciting to be able to treat patients with medications we've helped to develop," he says. "We’re at a critical period. Funding from the American Lung Association is becoming increasingly important as other funding becomes harder to obtain."
This year, we were excited to announce our largest single investment ever in lung cancer research. Our LUNG FORCE initiative, Stand Up To Cancer and the LUNGevity Foundation have joined forces to co-fund two groundbreaking research teams, dedicated to discovering new ways to detect and treat cancer at its earliest stages, when the disease is most curable.
At the October 26, 2017 Research Teams Announcement (l to r) Maximilian Diehn, M.D., Lecia Sequist M.D., (Lung Cancer Interception Translational Research Team leaders), Harold P. Wimmer, National President and CEO, American Lung Association, Andrea Ferris, CEO LUNGevity, Bree Turner, Stand Up To Cancer Ambassador and Actress, Avrum Spira M.D., Steven Dubinett M.D. (Lung Cancer Interception Dream Team leaders).
The Lung Cancer Interception Dream Team – a $5 million award – is designed to find innovative ways to detect whether lung abnormalities found on chest imaging are benign, or early-stage lung cancer. This team will be developing new diagnostic tools, such as nasal swabs, blood tests and radiological imaging. New blood tests will also be developed to help identify patients at the earliest stages of lung cancer or recurrence. This team will be led by Avrum Spira, M.D., professor of medicine, pathology and bioinformatics, and director of the Cancer Center at Boston University-Boston Medical Center and Steven Dubinett, M.D., associate vice chancellor for research at UCLA and director of the lung cancer research program at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The Lung Cancer Interception Translational Research Team – a $2 million award - will develop Lung Cancer Interception Assay (LCIA) to use in conjunction with low-dose CT scans. An assay is an analysis done to determine the presence and amount of a substance. The leaders of this team are Lecia Sequist, M.D., MPH, associate professor of medicine, and director of the Center for Innovation in Early Cancer Detection at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Maximilian Diehn, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of radiation oncology, Stanford University School of Medicine. We will keep you updated on progress as these two teams begin their important work.
Her Granddaughter Survived because of Lung Association Research, A Profile of Donor Audrene Lojovich
Audrene Lojovich became an American Lung Association volunteer almost 30 years ago. For Audrene, our research funding is the part of our mission that’s most compelling.
Over the years, her passion for our mission grew and so did her involvement, resulting in leadership roles at the local and national level, including as a member of our National Board of Directors.
When her twin granddaughters were born at 26 weeks and 2.25 pounds each, the work of one Lung Association-funded researcher, Dr. Mary Ellen Avery, gained direct and personal significance.
With funding support from the Lung Association, Dr. Avery discovered the role that too little of the substance called surfactant plays in the lung health of premature babies, as well as how to treat it. This discovery saves lives every day, and Audrene believes her granddaughters are healthy and thriving today because of treatment made possible by Dr. Avery's work.
Audrene was inspired to make a legacy gift by naming the Lung Association as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. "My legacy gift is an extension of my passion for the American Lung Association and my hopes for future breakthroughs to improve lung health and prevent lung disease," says Audrene. "And that makes me smile."
We Need Your Support
Our mission to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease is sustained by the important lung disease research projects we fund each year. This research, made possible through your enduring and generous support, is the key to our lifesaving mission.
Scientific research is the front-line weapon in eliminating the terrible toll of lung disease on our families and loved ones. Through research, we strive to find better methods of detection, treatment and ultimately cures to a host of lung diseases, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer.