Research Milestones

People from every walk of life are living healthier, more active lives—thanks to the medical breakthroughs pioneered by American Lung Association researchers and their colleagues worldwide.

Since 1915, our researchers have achieved major milestones in the fight against lung disease by revolutionizing treatment and unlocking secrets of the body's immune system. Premature babies now are less likely to die from respiratory distress syndrome; tuberculosis (TB) rates are at an all-time low; and young and old with chronic lung diseases—including asthma and COPD—are able to breathe easier.

Some of our contributions to research include:


1915-1920 - Establishing framework to fund lung disease research

In 1915 the Committee on Research was established to build the financial framework for the National Tuberculosis Association (later the American Lung Association) to support medical research. In 1921, we begin funding lung disease research.

Early researcher looking into a microscope in black and white
Doctors using early X-ray machine to screen for TB.

1929 - Developing new techniques with X-ray machines to diagnose lung disease

X-rays were used in science and medicine as early as 1896, but improvements in accuracy and techniques over the years led to the X-ray being vital in the detection of tuberculosis.

1944 - Finding the first effective drug treatment against tuberculosis

Dr. Selman Waksman, a microbiologist at Rutgers University, and graduatestudent Albert Schatz, isolated streptomycin, an antibiotic that proved to be an effective medicine against tuberculosis. Millions of recoveries from tuberculosis have been credited through streptomycin and Waksman was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1952 for Physiology and Medicine.

Dr. Selman Waksman in his research lab

1950 - Finding medication that prevents complications and spread of TB

Dr. Edith Lincoln, a grantee, observed that isoniazid, the primary medication against TB, prevented the development of serious complications in children. Later Public Health Service trials underscored isoniazid's important ability to prevent the spread of infection when given to household members of tuberculosis patients.

Black and white headshot of Dr. Edith Lincoln.
Black and white headshot of Dr. Mary Ellen Avery

1959 - Uncovering the role of surfactant in babies' lungs

Dr. Mary Ellen Avery, a grantee, discovered that the lungs of babies with respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) lack the fatty substance surfactant. This finding led to ways to treat RDS. It is estimated that more than 800,000 babies’ lives were saved over the next 50 years, with many more since then. For her continued investigative work in this field, Dr. Avery was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1991.

1989 - Discovering the gene that causes cystic fibrosis

Dr. Michael Iannuzzi, a grantee, helped discover the cystic fibrosis gene. Cystic fibrosis is an often fatal lung disease that is the result of a defective gene that causes the body to produce abnormally thick mucus, which clogs the lungs and leads to life-threatening lung infections. Finding this gene opened the door for scientists to develop treatments for cystic fibrosis, including gene therapy.

Blue gene strand on black background
American Lung Association | ACRC Network logo.

1999 - Creating network for patient-centered asthma research

The Lung Association launches the American Lung Association Asthma Clinical Research Centers (ACRC) Network—later the Airways Clinical Research Centers (ACRC) Network—to undertake patient-centered research focused on asthma.


2001 - Discovering the flu vaccine is safe for people with asthma

The ACRC released the results of its first study, the Study of Inactivated Influenza Vaccine in Asthmatics, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This study found that influenza vaccines are safe for both children and adults with asthma. Based on these findings, the CDC now recommends flu shots for children with asthma. Administering the flu vaccine to people with asthma has the potential to significantly reduce hospitalizations and increase cost savings.

Nurse giving high five to a boy with bandage on upper arm.
X-ray of lung showing mass.

2004 - Searching for new lung cancer treatments

The American Lung Association launches the Lung Cancer Discovery Award, providing research funding to investigators seeking to develop novel medical treatments or a cure for lung cancer.

2007 - Finding a once-daily drug works as well as twice-daily treatment for some asthma patients

This ACRC study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a simpler regimen of a once-a-day combination therapy of inhaled fluticasone plus salmeterol was as effective as twice-daily treatment of inhaled corticosteroids in patients with mild, persistent asthma. A simpler treatment plan means fewer drugs to remember to take and fewer prescription refills, reducing costs, side effects, and makes asthma treatment more convenient. For those who are at least 6 years old currently using preventative medication, once-daily fluticasone plus salmeterol could save almost $2 billion per year.

Pharmacist showing prescription paper to older man.
headshot of Dr. Alan Fields

2008 - Identifying a major oncogene in lung cancer

Dr. Alan Fields, a grantee at Mayo Clinic Florida, identified a major oncogene that may cause the development of lung cancer. He also discovered that a drug approved to treat arthritis may function in inhibiting the growth of tumor cells.

2009 - Discovering heartburn medication does not improve asthma in children and adults with no symptoms of acid reflux

The Study of Acid Reflux and Asthma (SARA) examined the potential connection between asthma and gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), and whether GERD treatments decreased asthma flare-ups. The results showed that the longstanding practice of prescribing heartburn medication was ineffective and expensive for some asthma patients who do not exhibit heartburn or stomach pain, which translates to roughly 1.5 million asthma patients taking expensive medication unnecessarily.

Doctor reviewing paper with adult woman.
Older man blowing into spirometry device.

2015 - Expanding ACRC Network to include patient-centered COPD research

The Asthma Clinical Research Centers (ACRC) Network is renamed the Airways Clinical Research Centers (ACRC) Network and will now include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as a focus of study.

2015 -  Finding soy isoflavone supplement did not improve lung function or clinical outcomes in asthma patients

An ACRC study shows that soy isoflavone, a nutritional supplement commonly used to treat asthma, do not result in better lung function or control asthma symptoms. The results may save consumers from spending thousands of dollars on an ineffective treatment, and also potentially helped some avoid adverse drug reactions.

Group of supplement bottles with pills falling out.

2016 - Developing new awards to help defeat lung cancer

The LUNG FORCE Research Innovation Project: Lung Cancer in Women Award, which aims to identify potential gender differences for lung cancer risk factors, is first awarded. The first Momentum Research Award: Defeating Lung Cancer in Women is awarded, in partnership with the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation.

LUNG FORCE | American Lung Association lockup logo
Young, black researcher making explanatory gesture to another doctor.

2019 - Expanding the landscape to fund researchers at different career levels

The Lung Association launched new awards within our awards and grants program. These new awards were intended to expand the landscape of the career levels the Lung Association supports, in the hopes of providing funding for investigators looking for awards beyond mentored level grants.

2020 - Pioneering the first-ever longitudinal lung health study

The Lung Health Cohort Study is funded by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. The pioneering study will follow 4,000 young, healthy adults to paint a clearer picture of lung health and the factors involved in predicting and preventing lung disease. This is the first federally funded, community based cohort study of millennials in the nation.

BeLung to Something Bigger text with lungs made out of puzzle pieces
Blue COVID-19 molecules on white background.

2020 - Searching for COVID-19 solutions

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Lung Association launched the COVID-19 Action Initiative, which included research applications to include specific questions related to the treatment, detection and care of COVID-19 and other emerging respiratory infections.

2021 - Understanding the challenges of addressing obesity in people with poorly controlled asthma

Weight loss might improve asthma control in people with obesity. However, people with asthma might have particular challenges losing weight and the amount of weight loss needed to improve asthma control is not clear. This ACRC Study pilot tested whether an online weight loss intervention could achieve an effect size suggested by the FDA as a criterion for evaluating weight loss intervention.

stethoscope on a keyboard
illustration of pill bottle, blue outline on white background.

2022 - Discovering blood pressure medication does not slow progression of COPD

Results of the ACRC and Pulmonary Trials Cooperative. Clinical Trial of Losartan for Pulmonary Emphysema: Pulmonary Trials Cooperative LEEP Trial were published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. The study found that Losartan did not prevent emphysema progression in people with COPD.

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