The seven-year, $5.9 million grant given Joseph P. Mizgerd by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a part of the National Institutes of Health, supports investigators by providing the long-term funding needed to continue or embark on pioneering projects. Mizgerd is a professor of medicine, microbiology, and biochemistry.
“It means a lot to me that the NHLBI provided such an award to a pneumonia researcher,” Mizgerd said in a news release. “It demonstrates recognition of the terrible lung disease that pneumonia is, and a commitment to fighting respiratory infection by focusing on the lung rather than just the microbe.”
Mizgerd and his team are researching lung defenses against pneumonia, and aim to develop new ways of preventing, and curing, pneumonia. The researchers will also to continue to promote pneumonia as a chronic disease of aging.
“We need to understand the lung defenses that normally prevent pneumonia in young, healthy adults before we can identify, prevent, or reverse what goes wrong to make individuals susceptible to pneumonia,” Mizgerd said.
Pneumonia is usually caused by a lung infection, and its outcome is determined by the interaction of microbes and microbial products in a person.
Mizgerd noted that pneumonia kills more children worldwide and leads to more children in the U.S. being hospitalized than any other disease.
The disease is most common in people with compromised host defenses, factors often related to poverty and malnutrition in younger people, and advancing age in others. Pneumonia is a cause of unhealthy aging, and acts to speed a decline in people with chronic pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases.
Other traits that can increase the risk of pneumonia include cigarette smoking, alcohol abuse, and obesity. Hospitalization itself is also a notable risk factor.
When bacteria colonize the lungs, innate immune responses determine the outcome. Neutrophils and plasma proteins are particularly important to eradicate these bacteria, but they compromise respiratory physiology. Insufficient innate immune responses lead to serious lung infection, while excessive responses cause acute lung injury, so regulating these responses is important.