From basic science to the bedside: APS conference takes stock of lung disease

BETHESDA, MD When researchers completed the human genome map in 2000, they still faced a complex puzzle: What role does each of the 24,000 human genes and the thousands more proteins they produce, play in various illnesses?

Researchers and medical doctors who deal with lung disease will take stock of the progress toward answering that question at The American Physiological Society conference "Physiological Genomics and Proteomics of Lung Disease," Nov. 2-5 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The conference comes amid giant leaps in knowledge of genes and proteins and also in the face of recent advances in bioinformatics (the use of computer hardware and software to analyze large amounts of biological information).

It is now possible to find the proverbial needle in a haystack by analyzing "tons of data," said J. Usha Raj, the chief of neonatology at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, professor of pediatrics at the UCLA Geffen School of Medicine and chair of the conference organizing committee. Scientists are using these advances to identify the genes and proteins implicated in diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), she said.

"This is a conference where the latest advances in computer technology, genomics (the study of the hereditary information encoded in the DNA) and proteomics (the study of proteins, which the genes instruct the body to produce) are being applied to the treatment and prevention of diseases," Raj noted. "We have doctors who want to jump in and take these basic science advances to the bedside."

The conference will "provide a relaxed environment where established researchers and young investigators alike can present and examine the most recent experimental discoveries and discuss ways to translate these discoveries for clinical use," the organizers said. Researchers and clinicians can use the information to fight diseases such as:

  • Asthma, a chronic disease in which the inside walls of the airways into and out of the lungs become inflamed and narrow, reducing air flow, according to a National Institutes of Health (NIH) web site.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a progressive disease marked by loss of lung function. COPD, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S., the NIH said.
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a life-threatening condition brought on by a major injury or inflammation to the lung which causes fluid build up in the lung's air sacs. Common causes include pneumonia, septic shock, trauma, aspiration of vomit, or chemical inhalation.
  • Pulmonary hypertension, an abnormally high blood pressure in the blood vessels of the lungs, according to the American Heart Association. The high pressure makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood through the lungs.

With the use of spectrometers and bioinformatics, scientists can analyze samples from patients' lungs to hone in on key proteins that may play a role in a disease, picking them out from among the thousands that an individual expresses, Raj explained. Once such proteins are identified, scientists can find ways to block them, she said.

The research is important even in environmental lung diseases, such as black lung, which some people develop and others do not, even under similar conditions. Researchers want to know if there are genetic markers of susceptibility for these environmental diseases.

"This is a new era with the use of proteomics and genomics," Raj said. "It really is a new way of understanding disease. We're looking globally at the whole human body and how it interacts with the environment."

The conference will include symposia and poster sessions presenting the latest in genomic and proteomic research in the development of various lung diseases, including:

  • Airway and vascular diseases
  • Environmental lung disease
  • Acute lung injury and inflammation.
  • Approaches to developing potential therapeutic targets

Allen Cowley Jr., chairman and professor of physiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin and a former APS president, will deliver the keynote address. Cowley is a prominent researcher who has focused on hypertension and is editor-in-chief of Physiological Genomics, published by The American Physiological Society.

David A. Schwartz, the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health, will deliver the featured presentation on Saturday, November 4.


The media can attend this cutting-edge conference. Reserve a place by contacting Christine Guilfoy, [email protected] or at (301) 634-7253.

The American Physiological Society was founded in 1887 to foster basic and applied bioscience. The Bethesda, Maryland-based society has 10,500 members and publishes 14 peer-reviewed journals containing almost 4,000 articles annually.

APS provides a wide range of research, educational and career support and programming to further the contributions of physiology to understanding the mechanisms of diseased and healthy states. In 2004, APS received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM).

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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