Professor Christopher Waters Receives $1.5 Million Grant for Lung Injury Research

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Dr. Christopher Waters and his research team (from left, Kristina Wilhelm, PhD, Bin Teng, PhD, and Charlean Luellen) have received a $1.5 million grant from the NIH that will allow them to understand the repair process associated with various lung injuries.
Dr. Christopher Waters and his research team (from left, Kristina Wilhelm, PhD, Bin Teng, PhD, and Charlean Luellen) have received a $1.5 million grant from the NIH that will allow them to understand the repair process associated with various lung injuries.

Christopher Waters, PhD, professor and vice chair in the Department of Physiology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has received a grant totaling $1.5 million from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health. His research seeks to understand the repair process associated with various lung injuries.

The award will be used to support a project titled, “CXCR4 Signaling in Lung Epithelial Repair.” The award will be distributed over a four-year period.

Patients with severe lung injury can develop a disease called Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). This disease is one of the most frequent causes of admission into the intensive care unit. It can be caused by different types of injury to the lungs, including infections and exposure to toxic substances.  A major feature of this disease is injury to the epithelial cells that line the respiratory tract and that normally protect the lungs from harmful substances in the inhaled air. Repair of the injured cells is important for recovery from the disease.

The patients are treated with supplemental oxygen and mechanical ventilation. Unfortunately, many patients do not survive. While this treatment is essential for survival, mechanical ventilation itself can contribute to additional lung injury and may affect the repair processes.  It was recently discovered that a particular substance called CXCL12 is released by injured lung cells, and that CXCL12 is important for the repair of the lungs.  Dr. Waters and his research team are studying the mechanisms of how this substance binds to its receptor (CXCR4) and promotes lung repair. In addition, they are studying how this repair process is affected by mechanical ventilation. If successful, these studies will provide new information about how lungs repair during mechanical ventilation that could potentially lead to new treatments for ARDS patients.

“ARDS is a devastating disease with very high mortality and limited treatment options,” said Dr. Waters. “The mechanisms of repair following injury are still not well understood, and this project from NIH will allow us to examine a new pathway that has not previously been studied in the lungs. We are excited to continue our studies of lung repair that we hope will lead to new treatments for ARDS patients.”