University of Georgia Researcher Awarded American Lung Association Grant to Study Lung Health

Lung health research is more important than ever. Never have we faced so many challenges to our lung health, including COVID-19, vaping and smoke from increased wildfires. Today, the American Lung Association in Georgia announced that distinguished researcher Whitney Rabacal, Ph.D. from the University of Georgia Research Foundation, Inc. will receive the Catalyst Award.

Rabacal’s project aims to develop therapeutic antibodies for the treatment of Invasive Pulmonary Aspergillosis (IPA). Aspergillus is a common fungus that poses a significant threat to lung health. In its most aggressive form it causes IPA, a rapidly progressing pneumonia-like disease that is often fatal. IPA threatens individuals with weakened immune systems, pre-existing lung disease, and severe viral pneumonias including influenza and COVID-19.

Current treatment options rely heavily on a limited number of antibiotics that are often hindered by drug interactions, adverse reactions and fungal resistance. Even with intensive care, treatment success remains low. “Based on a novel Aspergillus vaccine candidate, we will develop therapeutic antibodies to treat IPA in a model system and aim to understand how these antibodies protect against disease,” shares Rabacal. “This work will discover new therapies that can help to improve treatment strategies against IPA and other Aspergillus-associated lung diseases.”

“Here in Georgia, we face lung health challenges every day like higher smoking/vaping rates, high lung cancer/COPD rates, natural disasters, etc. In addition, more than 1.3 million people in our state are living with chronic lung disease,” said Michele Howell, executive director at the Lung Association in Georgia. “We are excited for Rabacal to join the American Lung Association Research Team to help improve lung health here in Georgia and across the nation.”

In the 2022-2023 grants cycle, the Lung Association is funding $13.2 million for more than 130 lung health research grants. For this round of funding, the organization placed a greater focus on strategic partnerships with key organizations like American Thoracic Society and CHEST, and grants that focus on equity like the Harold Amos Scholar.

Research projects funded by the Lung Association are carefully selected through rigorous scientific review and awardees represent the investigation of a wide range of complex issues. Awards were given in eight different categories: ALA/AAAAI Allergic Respiratory Diseases Award, ALA/ATS/CHEST Foundation Respiratory Health Equity Research Award, Catalyst Award, COVID-19 Respiratory Virus Research Award, Dalsemer Award, Innovation Award, Lung Cancer Discovery Award, and Public Policy Research Award.

The Lung Association’s Nationwide Research Program includes the Awards and Grants Program, and also our Airways Clinical Research Network, the nation's largest not-for-profit network of clinical research centers dedicated to asthma and COPD treatment research.

For more information about the new grant awardees and the entire American Lung Association Research Team, visit Lung.org/research-team.

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