The asthma and allergy research effort at the University of Texas Medical Branch got a boost recently with a five-year, $7.6 million project grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Entitled “Signaling in Airway Inflammation,” the grant renews NIAID funding that, for the past five years, has supported part of UTMB’s program focused on the role of respiratory viral infections and allergy in the development of asthma.
“This is a real success story — a product of the unique multi-disciplinary and collaborative environment here at UTMB,” said Dr. Allan Brasier, co-principal investigator on the grant. “The funding environment is extraordinarily competitive now, and I think this renewal demonstrates the unique strength of our group. We’ve been working together for more than10 years, and we have an exceptional history of very productive studies of the underpinnings of asthma and other chronic diseases that affect millions of Americans.”
Dr. Roberto Garofalo, the program’s other co-principal investigator, echoed Brasier’s comments.
“We focus in particular on lung inflammation, how it connects to childhood bronchiolitis and how that relates to adult asthma severity,” Garofalo said. “Our accomplishments in those areas show the power of collaborative, interdisciplinary work, bringing together different academic departments and centers of excellence — UTMB’s Sealy Center for Molecular Medicine, Sealy Center for Vaccine Development, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Proteomics Center and Institute for Translational Sciences.”
The researchers will pursue four inter-related projects centering on the biochemical processes that induce inflammation in cells lining human airways. Human subjects will be involved in two of the projects. The first, led by Garofalo and Dr. Antonella Casola, will examine severe early childhood infections by respiratory syncytial virus, which have been identified as a precursor for asthma; Garofalo and Casola will investigate genetic components thought to make such disease more likely and test a therapy that could reduce the severity of RSV infection.
The second, headed by Dr. Sanjiv Sur, will look at a key mechanism by which pollen provokes asthma and allergy attacks. Each pollen grain induces airway cells to produce large quantities of destructive molecules called reactive oxygen species, which in turn generate a powerful inflammatory response. Sur has identified a cellular receptor that’s critical to this process and will be working to detail its actions in humans.
The two other projects in the program will be led by Brasier and Professor Istvan Boldogh. Brasier’s investigation will follow up on his longtime interest in the relationship between inflammation and the immune-system regulatory protein NF-kappa B, exploring a novel inflammatory response that’s mediated by a molecule whose modulation may offer a new way to mitigate the exaggerated host responses to RSV infection. Boldogh, an expert in DNA repair, will follow up on his recent discovery that a key DNA-repair enzyme can actually generate harmful reactive oxygen species and inflammation.
Previous efforts by the group produced 52 multi-authored publications during the last five years, and involved eight pre-doctoral and 14 postdoctoral fellows in groundbreaking asthma research.