Pitt Team Receives $3 Million NIH Grant To Do Biochip-based Lung Research

Issue Date: 
November 10, 2008


Researchers at the Dorothy P. and Richard P. Simmons Center for Interstitial Lung Diseases in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh have been awarded approximately

$3 million from the National Institutes of Health. The funds will be used to conduct the first study using novel biochip technology to compare gene activity in different smoking-related chronic lung diseases.

The studies will be led by Naftali Kaminski, the Richard P. and Dorothy P. Simmons Endowed Chair in Interstitial Lung Disease and director of the Simmons Center; Steven Shapiro, the Jack B. Myers Professor and chair of the Department of Medicine; and Frank Sciurba, a professor of medicine and director of the Emphysema/COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) Research Center. The researchers will use DNA chips to examine the activity of all the genes in the human genome to design diagnostic tests that will allow physicians to guide therapy in the two most common cigarette-smoke-associated lung diseases: COPD and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). In what will be the largest study of its kind in lung disease, the researchers plan to identify and validate gene signatures that characterize COPD and IPF and their underlying causes.

“This study will help us understand why one person responds to cigarette smoke by developing emphysema while another develops fibrosis, and then to rapidly translate this knowledge from bench to bedside,” Kaminski explained.

As part of the study, the investigators aim to custom design a diagnostic assay for COPD and IPF, called the PulmoSmartChip, which will be based on WaferGen’s SmartChipTM Genome Scale Real-Time PCR technology. The PulmoSmartChip could help predict the natural history of the diseases and patients’ responses to specific therapeutics. “This funding recognizes the national leadership of our Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine in IPF and COPD research,” Shapiro said. ”Furthermore, it lays the foundations for personalized medicine approaches in pulmonary medicine.”

Chronic lung diseases affect a significant portion of the population. Approximately 24 million adults in the United States have evidence of abnormal lung function. They account for 9.5 million office and emergency room visits, 726,000 hospitalizations, and 119,000 deaths each year. The majority of these deaths are caused by COPD, but more than 15,000 deaths per year can be attributed to IPF, previously considered a rare disease and now a major source of lung morbidity and mortality that affects more than 100,000 patients in the U.S.

The Simmons Center and the Emphysema/COPD Research Center are among the nation’s leading programs in the care of patients with smoking-related diseases and are in the top ranks of NIH-funded research programs in lung disease