A professor at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) has been awarded a $5.9 million Outstanding Investigator grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the biology of pneumonia.
Joseph P. Mizgerd, ScD, will use the seven-year grant to advance the understanding of lung defenses against pneumonia, develop new approaches to prevent and cure pneumonia, and investigate the concept that pneumonia is 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 in a press release.
Pneumonia kills more children worldwide and hospitalizes more children in the U.S. than any other disease, the medical school professor said. The risk of death from pneumonia increases as we age, affecting older adults more than children. Pneumonia also accelerates unhealthy aging and can cause chronic pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases.
This is the first year the NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has given an Outstanding Investigator Award, which are designed to support the research programs of a researcher rather than a single research project.
“It means a lot to me that the NHLBI provided such an award to a pneumonia researcher,” Mizgerd said. “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 studied physiology and cell biology at Harvard, where he also earned a fellowship to continue his studies. He is the director of BUSM’s Pulmonary Center. Besides pneumonia, Mizgerd’s research interests include acute lower respiratory tract infections, cytokines, innate immunity, neutrophil recruitment, and regulation of gene expression.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2015, pneumonia accounted for 16 percent of all deaths of children under the age of 5, killing an estimated total of 920,136 children worldwide.
Pneumonia is caused by a number of infectious agents, including bacteria, viruses and fungi. Environmental risk factors that might increase a child’s susceptibility to pneumonia include indoor air pollution, caused by cooking and heating with biomass fuels – such as wood or dung – and living in crowded homes. Parental smoking is also an important factor.