The Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) has recognized two researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis for their studies in pulmonary medicine and cardiology. The investigators were among 14 scientists selected nationally to receive the BWF 2015 Career Award for Medical Scientists.
They are Jennifer Alexander-Brett, MD, PhD, an instructor in pulmonary medicine; and Kory J. Lavine, MD, PhD, an instructor in cardiovascular medicine.
The award provides each investigator with $700,000 in research funding for five years and is designed to help young physicians establish careers that are active in both scientific research and patient care.
Alexander-Brett studies lung stem cells and chemical signals they produce that might lead to chronic airway diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Her research focuses on a cell-signaling molecule called IL-33 that often is expressed by lung cells exposed to viral infection.
This molecule appears to trigger a chain of events that leads to an overproduction of mucus, a leading cause of death due to airway obstruction. The BWF award will support research to find ways to block IL-33 with the goal of reducing excess mucus production in chronic airway conditions.
Lavine’s work focuses on immune cells in the heart called macrophages. These cells respond to infection and injury and can either promote tissue repair or chronic inflammation that results in excess damage to heart tissue. Lavine’s research has helped distinguish two different types of macrophages. One type originates in the heart and appears to be helpful in healing damaged heart muscle. Another originates in the bone marrow and appears to drive inflammatory processes.
The findings may have implications for treating heart failure in people. The BWF award will support research to find ways to block the inflammatory macrophages from entering the heart so the heart’s native macrophages are left to promote healing.