NIH to fund ‘omics’ research into lung disease

Worldwide, millions of children and adults struggle to breathe because of lung damage caused by asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cystic fibrosis.

Adding to extensive research already underway to combat such ailments, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has been awarded a five-year career-development grant to support junior faculty members interested in using “omics” technologies to diagnose, treat and prevent lung diseases.

The grant, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, will help train young pulmonary scientists to apply new analytic omics tools to the study of lung diseases. These new tools include genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, bioinformatics, computational modeling and systems biology.

Rather than focusing on discrete genes, proteins or metabolites, omics takes a broad look across an entire biological system — in this case the lungs — to understand the inner workings of cells and the intimate interactions between genes and the proteins they make.

“The advantages of these omics technologies are that they are reasonably noninvasive and can be applied longitudinally to children and adults to watch how lungs develop and change either in normal growth and development or in various disease states, such as cystic fibrosis or asthma,” explained F. Sessions Cole, MD, one of the grant’s program directors. “I am very optimistic that we will find outstanding trainees who will be able to apply our rich omics resources and expertise to discover new knowledge about lung disease in ways that prior technologies haven’t been able to provide.”

Applications for funding from the $1.2 million grant are open through Jan. 10 to clinical or postdoctoral instructors or recently appointed assistant professors who are within five years of completing residency or receipt of a PhD. Those selected are expected to become independent investigators and assume leadership roles in using omics technologies to advance research into pulmonary diseases.

The program will center around the university’s commitment to apply multiple omics-based methods to investigating the biological basis of inflammatory airway diseases.

The grant’s program directors are Cole, the Park J. White, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, vice chair of the Department of Pediatrics and chief medical officer of St. Louis Children’s Hospital; Barak A. Cohen, PhD, the Alvin Goldfarb Distinguished Professor of Computational Biology and associate professor of genetics; and Michael J. Holtzman, MD, the Selma and Herman Seldin Professor of Medicine and professor of cell biology and physiology.

The first two trainees will be selected in the next few months and will begin their work in July.

“I would hope that, within a couple of years, our trainees will be launched on new career trajectories linked to their use of these novel omics technologies for the study of lung disease,” Cole said.

For more information and application materials, follow this link.

Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.