UT Health Science Center scientist awarded $377,500 NIH grant for research into lung scarring

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A biomedical researcher at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler has been awarded a $377,500 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how and why the lung scars.

Hua Tang, Ph.D., will use the two-year grant to study a specific protein – protein kinase D (PKD) – and its role in lung scarring. PKD appears to direct the lung cells to form scars, but it’s unclear how it does so.

Proteins are the basic building blocks of the body, and each one has unique functions. Hormones, enzymes, and antibodies are examples of proteins.

Infections such as pneumonia, diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, and breathing air with harmful pollutants can all give rise to lung scarring, which causes the lungs to thicken and makes it harder to breathe.

Sometimes a person develops lung scarring – pulmonary fibrosis in medical terms – but the cause remains a mystery. This condition is called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

By understanding PKD and how it works, Dr. Tang can develop ways to prevent it from triggering the scarring process.

His research could lead to new ways to effectively treat lung scarring, a chronic and progressive disease that kills about 40,000 Americans each year, according to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation.

“It is a rare disease, but very dangerous. Only 20 percent of those diagnosed with lung scarring are alive five years after diagnosis,” Dr. Tang said.

Currently, the only effective treatment for lung scarring is a lung transplant, said UTHSCT Vice President for Research Steven Idell, MD, Ph.D. And lung transplants last on average just five or 10 years.

“There’s a need for better treatment. Scientists like Dr. Tang will lead the way in developing these treatments,” Dr. Idell said.

For 60 years, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler has provided excellent patient care and cutting-edge treatment, specializing in pulmonary disease, cancer, heart disease, primary care, and the disciplines that support them. UTHSCT’s annual operating budget of $125 million represents a major economic impact of over $287 million to the Northeast Texas region. In FY 2010, scientists in the Center for Biomedical Research were awarded 75 competitive grants and contracts totaling more than $14 million. As the academic medical center for Northeast Texas, its graduate medical education program – with residencies in family medicine and occupational medicine – provide doctors for many communities throughout the region and beyond.

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