Two Triangle Researchers Awarded American Lung Association Grants to Study COVID-19 and Asthma

Today, the American Lung Association Research Institute announced it has awarded $13.6 million in research grants to fund 129 innovative projects to advance today’s science to end lung disease tomorrow, including two projects from North Carolina. Matthew Kelly, M.D., MPH from Duke University was awarded the COVID-19 Respiratory Virus Research Award. Stephen Schworer, M.D., Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was awarded the American Lung Association/AAAI Allergic Respiratory Diseases Research Award.

Lung research is critical because more than 1.4 million people in North Carolina live 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 Dr. Kelly and Dr. Schworer to join the elite American Lung Association Research Institute and our efforts to fundamentally transform lung health here in North Carolina and across the nation,” said Jodi Strong, vice chair of the Lung Association’s North Carolina Board. “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.”

Dr. Kelly’s research delves into the microbiome, the collection of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live on and inside the human body, and its role in the development and function of the immune system. His project will evaluate the upper respiratory microbiome and immune responses of volunteers who have been inoculated with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Results and analyses may be used to develop new vaccines, medications or microbiome therapies to prevent or treat SARS-CoV-2 infections.

"I would like to thank the American Lung Association for their support of our research to identify how bacteria and immune responses in the upper respiratory tract influence the COVID-19 risk and severity,” said Dr. Kelly. “This work, which will use make use of valuable samples collected from healthy volunteers intentionally given the virus causes COVID-19, could be used to inform development of new vaccines or medications to prevent or treat COVID-19."

Dr. Schworer’s research will focus on asthma, specifically two features of the disease that could be targets for future treatments: blockages in the lung’s airways caused by mucus and changes in the small airways themselves. By studying the lungs of people who have died from asthma and people with severe asthma, he will investigate the relationship between airways’ epithelial cells and mucus production, potentially understanding how these genes are turned on and off.

“Funding from the Allergic Respiratory Diseases Award is crucial to my work on two understudied and important features of asthma: mucus plugging and small airways disease,” Dr. Schworer said. “This opportunity allows me as an allergist physician-scientist to work with pulmonologists and pathologists to use cutting edge methods to study the molecular features of steroid-refractory severe asthma and fatal asthma. Our findings will contribute to a better understanding of biology of small airways disease in asthma and provide a foundation for mechanistic studies that will inform new therapeutic targets.”

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 https://www.lung.org/research/about-our-research/meet-the-researchers.

Get involved and help the mission of American Lung Association. The next North Carolina Community Connections, sponsored by AstraZeneca, is coming up on the evening of November 15. Medical providers and members of the healthcare field are invited to learn about lung cancer patient identification, screening and biomarker testing. Learn more and register here.

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For more information, contact:

Victoria O'Neill
(312) 273-5890
[email protected]

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