University of Tennessee Researcher Awarded $100,000 Grant to Study Immune Cells’ Protection Against COVID-19

American Lung Association’s funding provided at critical time for research

With lung diseases like COVID-19, vaping and smoke from increased wildfires, lung health research has never been more important. Today, the American Lung Association in Tennessee announced that Amali Eashani Samarasinghe, PhD, from The University of Tennessee Health Science Center, was bestowed $100,000 COVID-19 Respiratory Virus Research Award funding to study how certain immune cells can protect people against COVID-19.

“Here in Tennessee, we face lung health challenges like high lung cancer and COPD rates. In addition, more than 1 million people in our state are living with chronic lung disease,” said Shannon Baker, advocacy director at the Lung Association. “We are excited for Dr. Samarasinghe to join the American Lung Association Research Team to help improve lung health here in Tennessee and across the nation.” 

Eosinophils are immune cells that have been considered essential during parasite infections. However, discoveries made in the past two decades emphasized that eosinophil functions are important during respiratory virus infections. Observations from around the world indicate that eosinophil loss occurs in patients with severe COVID-19 and that the replenishment of these immune cells correlate with a patient’s recovery. Dr. Samarasinghe’s project aims to investigate whether eosinophils are important to host defense strategies against COVID-19, including variant strains.   

In the 2022-2023 grants cycle, the Lung Association is funding $13.1 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.  

The Lung Association’s Nationwide Research Program includes the Awards and Grants Program, and the 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 Lung Association Research Team, visit

For more information, contact:

James A. Martinez
(312) 445-2501
[email protected]

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