NEW ORLEANS, LA (WAFB) - The LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans School of Medicine has been awarded a $2.1 million grant over five years to continue research related to pneumonia.
School officials said Dr. Jay Kolls, professor and chairman of genetics at the medical school, received the grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health to further his work on a discovery that plays a critical role in the body's defense against pneumonia.
"This work will help advance prevention and treatment of pneumonia and also advance vaccine development against lung infections," said Dr. Kolls in a statement released by the school of medicine. "It will also have broader application because mucous tissues like the lung are also the primary sites of emerging infections such as H1N1 influenza and MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus)."
The medical school explained bacterial pneumonia is an important clinical problem and defense mechanisms against it are not fully understood. Dr. Kolls and his research team have identified a unique group of white blood cells that play a critical role in defense against pneumonia. These cells rapidly produce two new cytokines (small proteins in the immune system that affect how cells communicate and function) to increase resistance to infection in the lung.
The first is interleukin-17, which helps recruit white blood cells into the sight of infection. The second is interleukin-22, which increases the barrier function of the epithelium (tissue lining the lungs). The research funded under this grant will use genetically engineered mice to see which cells need to receive these cytokine signals. Specifically, the researchers will investigate the role of the lung epithelium itself as the primary recipient of these signals. This application will also explore how these cells are generated and how they control infection defense in the lung.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.2 million people in the U.S. were hospitalized with pneumonia and 55,477 people died from the disease in 2006. Globally, pneumonia kills more than 4 million people every year. Half of the deaths are among children under 5 years old. This is greater than the number of deaths from any other infectious disease, such as AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis. The CDC also reports that recent data show that Americans visit the doctor approximately 12 million times each year to get checked for suspected Staph or MRSA skin infection.
A study of the first population-based nationwide estimates of the burden of invasive MSRA disease from active cases published in 2007 found the incidence in 2005 was 31.8 cases per 100,000 persons, with a mortality rate of about 20%.
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