4 Maryland Researchers Awarded American Lung Association Grants And Receive a Total Research Investment of $435,000 to Study Lung Diseases

The American Lung Association Research Institute announced it awarded $13.6 million in research grants to fund 129 innovative projects to advance today’s science to end lung disease tomorrow, including projects from Maryland.

University of Maryland College Park’s Katharina Maisel, PhD, Montgomery County resident, was awarded a $75,000 Innovation Award, which is renewable for an additional year for a total of $150,000. John Hopkins researchers Ian Saldanha, MBBS, MPH, Bloomberg School of Public Health and Baltimore resident, awarded a $47,500 Airways Clinical Research Centers (ACRC) Early Award (total of $95,000*); Bonnie Yeung-Luk, PhD, School of Public Health and Harford County resident, was awarded a $47,500 ACRC Pilot Award (total of $95,000); and Rachel Damico, MD, PhD, School of Medicine, Baltimore County resident, was awarded a $47,500 ACRC- Pilot Award (total of $95,000*). *Grants are renewable for an additional year, totaling $285,000 for John Hopkins researchers and $435,000 total funds awarded to Maryland-based researchers for this grant cycle.

Lung research is critical because 689,000 people in Maryland are living with lung disease and each year, millions of people are impacted by respiratory viruses like COVID-19 and influenza. Through the Awards and Grants Program, the Lung Association supports trailblazing research, novel ideas and innovative approaches. The funded researchers investigate a wide range of lung health topics, including asthma, COPD, lung cancer infectious lung diseases and more.

“We are honored to welcome Drs. Katharina Maisel, Ian Saldanha, Bonnie Yeung-Luk, and Rachel Damico to join the elite American Lung Association Research Institute and our efforts to fundamentally transform lung health here in Maryland and across the nation,” said Deborah Brown, Chief Mission Officer at the American Lung Association. “Our research investment is key to unlocking solutions to alleviate the burden of lung disease. The Lung Association’s Awards and Grants Program promotes innovative research, collaboration, translation of discoveries, and scientific exchange to transform today’s science into tomorrow’s solutions. Because when you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.”

Katharina Maisel’s project aims to stop the progression of Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM), a rare disease in which abnormal cells begin to grow out of control and eventually damage the lungs—current treatment only stops progression and about 30% of patients don’t respond to the treatment.

"The Lung Association Innovator Award will allow us to continue to improve treatments for the rare but devastating disease, lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM), and hopefully lead to a translatable immunotherapy for LAM in the future," said Maisel.

Ian Saldanha’s project will review weight-loss medications to help select treatments to test more rigorously in a randomized controlled trial of weight loss medications on asthma patients. If successful, this project will likely shift current research and clinical practice in the management of obesity in patients with asthma. “I am honored to be one of the recipients of the ACRC Early Career Award and to join the American Lung Association Research Institute.

“I am a new researcher in asthma, so this award will be very instrumental towards me establishing myself in this field so that I can make a long-term impact. This particular project will rigorously summarize what we know about weight loss drugs and asthma, so that clinical trialists can plan a randomized trial on this important topic. It feels good to make an impact in this way,” said Saldanha.

Bonnie Yeung-Luk’s project goal is to evaluate whether mitochondrial DNA copy number, as a sensitive measure of mitochondrial dysfunction, can act as a non-invasive and inexpensive approach to identifying at-risk patients and providing an intermediate outcome of emphysema progression during treatments.

“I am genuinely honored and deeply grateful to have been awarded the ACRC Pilot Award, which serves as a meaningful recognition of my unwavering commitment to advancing COPD research. This award represents a significant milestone in my research journey, and I am humbly appreciative of the opportunity it provides to establish a more prominent presence in the field and contribute substantially by identifying a robust emphysema biomarker for informed interventions," said Yeung-Luk.

Rachel Damico's project will focus on the role of angiostatic factors in the development of emphysema. Emphysema is caused by excessive cell death and tissue aging in the lungs due to exposure to harmful environmental factors and currently, there are no drugs available that target this tissue destruction. The research aims to improve our understanding of the underlying pathobiology of this tissue destruction and identify new biomarkers that can lead to novel therapies for COPD/emphysema treatment.

“I truly appreciate being welcome into the Lung Association Research Institute with a project dedicated to unraveling the intricacies of vascular dysfunction emphysema, a condition notorious for its relentless tissue destruction. This project is a pivotal step in our quest to identify biomarkers that can shed light the disease and provides crucial insights into the mechanisms behind emphysema and its progression. Our efforts aim to contribute significantly to the development of targeted treatments and interventions for individuals affected by this debilitating disease. I am thrilled to be part of this impactful journey towards understanding and addressing emphysema at its core,” said Damico.

This year, awards were given in different categories addressing many aspects of lung disease; 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 and Lung Cancer Discovery Award. Research projects funded by the Lung Association are carefully selected through rigorous scientific peer review and awardees investigate a wide range of complex issues.

The Lung Association’s Research Institute includes the Awards and Grants program, and also the Airways Clinical Research Network, the nation's largest not-for-profit network of clinical research centers dedicated to asthma and COPD treatment research. The Lung Association is currently accepting applications for its 2024-2025 research awards and grants cycle. For more information about the active research funding opportunities, visit Lung.org/awards.

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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For more information, contact:

Valerie Gleason
[email protected]

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