Researcher Awarded Nearly $7.5M to Find Treatments for COPD, Other Disorders

Researcher Awarded Nearly $7.5M to Find Treatments for COPD, Other Disorders

Michael J. Holtzman, MD, has received close to $7.5 million in total funding for research aimed at developing stem cell-based treatments for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and other disorders.

Holtzman’s research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis identified a subset of stem cells — cells that are able to grow into other more specialized types of cells — that line the airways and help drive mucus production in the lungs.

“Stem cells that give rise to mucus cells lining the airway and other sites are part of our immune defense strategy,” Holtzman, the director of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, said in a university press release written by Julia Evangelou Strait.

These cells are activated by common respiratory viruses and other inhaled agents, and prevent airway injury and promote repair.

“Once the problem is resolved, the [immune] system should go back to a normal baseline level. But in some people, the stem cell is changed in a way that continues to promote inflammation and mucus production and ultimately compromises airway function even for normal breathing,” Holtzman said.

Thus, Holtzman’s team is searching for therapeutic targets to control this stem cell response.

The largest of the grants he’s received — at $6.6 million — is the outstanding investigator award from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), given to researchers with proven expertise in innovative research and considered likely to make major advances. The grant will provide seven years of funding for research intended to further characterize these cells and their underlying mechanisms of action.

The award also supports ongoing efforts to identify pharmacological strategies to manipulate these stem cells. One lead compound has shown promise in animal models, preventing airway inflammation and mucus production after a respiratory viral infection.

Pending clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, clinical trials for this potential therapy are planned in people with COPD, asthma exacerbations, and related upper airway disorders.

Holtzman also received a NIH Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) of $300,000 to support a startup company he launched in anticipation of the successful development of these treatments.

Besides lung diseases, Holtzman received another $300,000 STT and a $250,000 award from the Siteman Investment Program in support of a stem cell-targeting compound aimed at treating breast cancer.

“Your first reaction might be to wonder how in the world such similar compounds could be effective in what seem to be such different tissues,” Holtzman said. “But airway and breast tissues and other related sites share secretory function and overlap in how this function is controlled.”

“As a result,” he concluded, “our compounds can be precisely tailored to address whether the dysregulated stem cell is in airway versus breast tissue, or other sites as well.”

Marisa holds an MS in Cellular and Molecular Pathology from the University of Pittsburgh, where she studied novel genetic drivers of ovarian cancer. She specializes in cancer biology, immunology, and genetics. Marisa began working with BioNews in 2018, and has written about science and health for SelfHacked and the Genetics Society of America. She also writes/composes musicals and coaches the University of Pittsburgh fencing club.
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Patrícia holds her PhD in Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases from the Leiden University Medical Center in Leiden, The Netherlands. She has studied Applied Biology at Universidade do Minho and was a postdoctoral research fellow at Instituto de Medicina Molecular in Lisbon, Portugal. Her work has been focused on molecular genetic traits of infectious agents such as viruses and parasites.
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Marisa holds an MS in Cellular and Molecular Pathology from the University of Pittsburgh, where she studied novel genetic drivers of ovarian cancer. She specializes in cancer biology, immunology, and genetics. Marisa began working with BioNews in 2018, and has written about science and health for SelfHacked and the Genetics Society of America. She also writes/composes musicals and coaches the University of Pittsburgh fencing club.
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5 comments

  1. John Polachek says:

    What a joke, around 160,000 a year die from COPD National Institute of Health gives 110 million a year for research. HIV around 11,000 a year die NIH gives 3 Billion for research. Women alone 83,000 die from COPD yearly breast cancer 41,000 women die yet they get 711 million. Fair HUH??????????????????????????

  2. Diane says:

    Thank god someone is finally doing something for COPD suffers. It seems it has always been the forgotten disease. Too late for me but at least younger people will have a chance.

  3. Elizabeth Ann Thomas says:

    I agree with John Polacheck. Why aren’t we spending more money to research a CURE for COPD when it’s killing so many?? Oh that’s right it’s the stigma and goes against Big donating Pharmacy. I don’t understand why such a large amount of people have to continue to suffer. We’ve known what it does. Why not even spend some money on developing a treatment that actually works for addiction of nicotine. Nicotine that was and still is legal to use and even encouraged when some people started. I get so angry about the tobacco companies and how the government taxes the cigarettes and receives a lot of tax revenue. Supposedly to “treat” those who are affected by tobacco, since we know and have known since the mid 60’s that it is in fact an addicting substance. There is something really wrong with this whole picture about how we choose to fund and research. Why aren’t our congressman speaking for us?something very unfair to people and not all COPD is caused by smoking. Or second hand smoke. When is the NIH going to wake up? I’ve seen promising research done prior to 2013 and then it just stops. Hardly anything and very little stem cell research for COPD. I just so frustrated. And I’m not ready to die!

  4. Margaret Horsfield says:

    Thank goodness somebody is doing research into C.O.P.D. I hope it’s comes in my life time ,if not younger people will benefit from it .

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