President's Research Report: What You Make Possible

A Message from the President

When you are a patient, or caregiver of someone with lung disease, the need for research to find better treatments, or even a cure, is always urgent. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for accelerated research may be even more urgent and the American Lung Association has stepped up as never before!

COVID-19 is a lung disease, and as America’s trusted champion for lung health, the Lung Association has been on the front lines from the start. We’ve launched the COVID-19 Action Initiative, our $25 million initiative to end COVID-19 and defend against future respiratory virus pandemics. A key component of the initiative is ramped-up research funding focused on treating and preventing COVID-19 and other coronaviruses. 

Let’s take a broader look at all the ways our research team is working toward a healthier America.

In 2020-2021, our Research Team is conducting studies on a wide array of lung diseases, from asthma and COPD to lung cancer, using innovative approaches that put patients’ benefit first. We are investing a total of more than $11.5 million dollars in research, which includes our Awards and Grants program, and the ongoing work of our Airways Clinical Research Centers. Add in our COVID-19 Action Initiative and this will be one of our greatest ever annual investments in research! 

Our Awards and Grants Program funds researchers at all levels, who are studying a wide range of lung health areas. Our Airways Clinical Research Centers (ACRC) network is the largest not-for-profit network of clinical research centers dedicated to asthma and COPD, and its unique work focuses on research that promises to have an immediate and positive impact on the lives of patients. 

Below, you’ll meet some exciting members of our Research Team, like Dr. John Schoggins who’s made an important discovery about a protein related to coronaviruses and Dr. Jay Zweier who is studying whether there is a connection between lung cancer and e-cigarettes. As we face the challenge of COVID-19 and all other lung diseases, our most important team member is you. I’m proud that you have been a faithful supporter of our research and that you trust us to use your donation for the maximum benefit of lung disease patients and their loved ones. Thanks to your support, we’re funding 12 COVID research projects (adding $2.4 M to our research program), to meet the challenge of the COVID-19 crisis. We are in this together, and with your generous support, we’ll get through this sooner! 

—Harold P. Wimmer, National President & CEO, American Lung Association

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Early Progress Against COVID-19

John Schoggins, Ph.D. John Schoggins, Ph.D.

We are excited to share that one of our funded researchers, John Schoggins, Ph.D., made a promising medical discovery last March regarding COVID-19. 

Dr. Schoggins was the recipient of our 2019-20 Innovation Award and is investigating how macrophages [large white blood cells] affect the influenza virus. 

In the process, Dr. Schoggins and his team landed on the Protein LY6E and determined it plays a key role in the primary immune response defending against coronavirus.

“This particular protein, LY6E, demonstrates the ability to block the COVID-19 virus and other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS from fusing to the cells, thus significantly reducing the probability of infection when tested in vitro [outside living organism]. It also helps the immune system control coronavirus disease in vivo [within living organism],” explained Dr. Schoggins. 

The team next plans to expand their research to see whether LY6E can be translated into treatment options. “The team is appreciative of organizations such as the American Lung Association for taking chances on cutting-edge research such as ours.” 

Your support makes exciting discoveries like this possible! Learn more about COVID-19 and find more articles at Lung.org/covid19.


ACRC Responds to COVID-19

In addition to the new COVID-19 award recipients, the Lung Association turned to an established resource and expanded its own Airways Clinical Research Centers (ACRC) network’s ongoing research in scope and engagement to also include COVID-19, along with its established focus on asthma and COPD. 

Our ACRC was also invited to join the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) as a collaborator in its CONNECTS program, which is working to create a rapid and efficient mobilization and coordination of our nation’s clinical trial infrastructure. The goal of CONNECTS is to build on NHLBI’s existing clinical research networks across the nation to better understand the risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and to identify therapies that will slow the disease progression and help speed recovery. 

One example of ACRC’s expanded role in COVID-19 is Losartan Effects on Emphysema Progression (LEEP) COVID-19 ancillary study. It is evaluating the effects of the drug losartan (versus placebo) on the risk of and severity of COVID-19 among the available participants as part of our ongoing LEEP clinical trial. It will study the development and persistence of COVID-19 antibodies in this group and learn about the effect of social distancing measures and the pandemic on their mental health status and social support networks. This rapid expansion of our ACRC Network into research on COVID-19 is all part of our COVID-19 Action Initiative. 

“A cornerstone of the COVID-19 Action Initiative is leveraging our existing clinical research network and funding additional and novel respiratory virus research,” said American Lung Association President and CEO Harold Wimmer. “As we learned of the novel coronavirus, our ACRC immediately expanded the current studies happening within the ACRC network to include COVID-19. By leveraging our existing network, we were able to nimbly implement new and promising research to support the lung health of Americans during this pandemic.”  


Thank You For Funding Innovative Lung Disease Research

Thanks to you, these investigators are conducting pioneering lung disease research

Zweier

Jay Zweier, M.D.

Ohio State University College of Medicine
Columbus, OH

Electronic Cigarettes in Lung Cancer Development

Electronic cigarettes have now eclipsed tobacco cigarettes as the most popular tobacco product used by American youth. Tobacco cigarette smoking is well known to cause lung cancer, the #1 leading cause of cancer death in both women and men. But it has not been established if electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) can cause lung cancer as well. Taking advantage of a unique opportunity to learn more about vaping and lung cancer, the Lung Association is now funding a Priority Impact Award led by Jay Zweier, M.D. at Ohio State University.

Preliminary data by Dr. Zweier has shown that chronic exposure to e-cig vapor can cause lung cancer. The Electronic Cigarettes in Lung Cancer Development study we’re funding will use a chronic mouse model of e-cig exposure to determine the duration and intensity of e-cig vapor inhalation required to cause the development of lung cancer. Longitudinal imaging studies of lung cancer development will be performed with histopathology confirmation and the underlying mechanisms of the onset of the cancer will be explored. 

The overall objective of this study is to determine the duration and intensity of e-cig vapor inhalation required for initiation of lung cancer in a chronic mouse model. It will provide important insights into the role of vaping and understanding the carcinogenesis risk of e-cigs which could eventually be translated to human users.

Andreas Schwingshackl

Andreas Schwingshackl, M.D., Ph.D. 

UCLA
Los Angeles, CA

TREK-1 potassium channels protect from ventilator-induced lung injury

A recipient of our Innovation Award, Andreas Schwingshackl, MD, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, is studying how to treat respiratory failure without further injuring the lung. All patients with respiratory failure are treated with oxygen therapy and mechanical ventilation. Although both therapies can aid in patient recovery, they also promote further lung injury which can actually increase patient death rates. 

This has urgent, real-world implications because in treating COVID-19, the use of ventilators has skyrocketed across the country! Doctors try to limit the degree of oxygen and mechanical ventilation exposure but have not been able to eliminate the injuries that result as a consequence of these therapies. Currently, no targeted approaches exist to counteract such injury. 

In his lab, Dr. Schwingshackl has discovered that oxygen therapy and mechanical ventilation decrease the levels of proteins called TREK-1 potassium channels in the lung. Decreasing this protein accelerates further injury. 

In this study, Dr. Schwingshackl will study the mechanisms of TREK-1- protection and determine whether activation of other TREK-1 channels with newly developed drugs can counteract the lung injury caused by oxygen and mechanical ventilation therapy. Dr Schwingshackl’s lab will also introduce two novel, next-generation devices to mimic these injuries occurring in the lung.

Georgiana Bostean, Ph.D.

Georgiana Bostean, Ph.D.

Chapman University
Orange, CA

Leveraging policy and retail environments to reduce adolescent vaping and smoking of tobacco and cannabis products

Georgiana Bostean, Ph.D., of Chapman College in Orange CA, is a population health scientist, whose research examines how social factors at multiple levels influence racial/ethnic health inequalities. Using funds from our Public Policy Award, Dr. Bostean is conducting research to better understand factors contributing to teens’ increasing smoking and vaping (e-cigarette use). 

Despite continued declines in California’s youth cigarette smoking rate, adolescent vaping (use of electronic smoking devices for nicotine, cannabis, or both) is on the rise. Concurrently, new specialty retailers (vape shops and cannabis dispensaries) have emerged. However, the impact of these new specialty retailers on youth use is not well understood. There is an urgent need to understand the factors contributing to the increasing use of tobacco and cannabis products among youth to achieve California’s goal of reducing youth tobacco use prevalence. 

Our study will be among the first comprehensive statewide studies to examine how tobacco and cannabis control policies and retail environments (tobacco retailers, vape shops, cannabis dispensaries) affect adolescent smoking and vaping— crucial information for policymakers aiming to curb the youth vaping epidemic. While her research is focused on California, the insights she gains can improve public policy to help stem the youth vaping epidemic across the country.


Lung Association Accelerates COVID-19 Solutions with New Research Awards

 When COVID-19 emerged as a nationwide pandemic, the American Lung Association was swift to act and launched the COVID-19 Action Initiative. Guided by our three main pillars of research, education and advocacy, this bold initiative is committing $25 million to end COVID-19 and defend against future respiratory viruses. We rapidly expanded our COVID-19 research, placing an urgent call for applications for the most promising research studies on COVID-19. 

We have since built an impressive foundation of COVID-19 research, funding awards and grants for preventative research, vaccines, and antivirals, as well as providing pilot grants to evaluate the effects of COVID-19 on patients with chronic lung disease. The awardees for the inaugural COVID-19 and Respiratory Virus Research award are funded at $100,000 a year for two years. These are some of the awardees exploring important avenues to prevent and treat COVID-19 and other coronaviruses: 

  • Brandon DeKosky, Ph.D., of the University of Kansas Center for Research, is leading a study that will determine the antibody-based immune features in COVID-19 patients with acute lung injury and apply that information to develop new COVID-19 interventions. 
  • Irina Petrache, M.D., of National Jewish Health in Denver Colorado, is leading research to discover novel risk factors for severe COVID-19 lung disease, including e-cigarette use and influenza infection. 
  • Dan Jane-Wit, M.D., Ph.D., of Yale University is exploring the role of ZFYVE21 in COVID-19 respiratory complications. ZFYVE21 is a protein that Dr. Jane-Wit recently helped discover, which appears to play a role in respiratory failure and other symptoms in COVID-19 patients. His team hopes that learning more about ZFYVE21 will lead to drug development to improve patient survival. 
  • Tishra Beeson, DrPH, MPH, of Central Washington University, is focusing on prevention, by studying the complex factors that lead to the spread of COVID-19 in vulnerable communities and developing a framework to reduce the spread. 

Each of the 12 research projects we are funding holds the promise of giving us valuable new insights into how to protect us from COVID-19 and other emerging respiratory pathogens

Your gift supports lifesaving research

Please donate today so this vital research can continue. Together, we can create a world free of lung disease.

Page last updated: March 10, 2021

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