About the Respiratory Diseases Unit

The mission of the Respiratory Diseases Unit is to define the cellular, molecular, and metabolic mechanisms for chronic diseases of the respiratory system. The respiratory system, extending from the nares to the respiratory alveolar surfaces, is a highly complex cellular and architectural entity. Because the respiratory system is the largest interface between the organism and the environment, it is the primary target for all classes of airborne agents; among these agents are oxidant air pollutants, particulate products, infectious agents, and allergens. The fact that most of the respiratory system’s growth and differentiation occurs over an extended period of time following birth in primate species (8-10 years in humans) makes this organ system particularly vulnerable to environmental challenges with long term impact on health.

The CNPRC is the only National Primate Research Center program with a scientific unit focused on pulmonary diseases. Defining the development of the respiratory system during early life, understanding the pathways by which it is regulated, and investigating the long-term health impact of environmental exposures is a major research emphasis for the Respiratory Diseases Unit. Specialized research expertise within the Respiratory Diseases Unit includes lung remodeling, pulmonary toxicology, mucosal immunology, and neurophysiology. Respiratory Diseases Unit Core and Affiliate Scientists developed the first rhesus monkey model of adult and childhood asthma using a human allergen, which has given researchers the ability to test numerous biological mechanisms and new therapies.

Childhood Asthma

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asthma is one of the most common long-term diseases of childhood, with recent estimates at 9.3% or 1 in 11 in children. In 2009, the average yearly medical cost for a child with asthma was $1,039. Research by CNPRC Respiratory Diseases Unit Core and Affiliate Scientists is focused on understanding why children are highly susceptible to asthma, with the goal of identifying predictive biomarkers and discovering preventative treatments.

Research Accomplishments in the Respiratory Diseases Unit

  • Used a novel rhesus monkey model of house dust mite sensitization to investigate the pathogenesis of allergic asthma in pediatric and adult asthma
  • Defined the relationship between pediatric asthma, development of mucosal immunity in the respiratory system, and exposure to the house dust mite allergen
  • Studied the effects of air pollutants including environmental tobacco smoke and ozone during prenatal, neonatal and postnatal lung development
  • Investigated the establishment of neural networks within the respiratory system and their role in the regulation of overall pulmonary function and airways reactivity
  • Developed a pediatric model of H1N1 influenza infection to study pulmonary immune susceptibility in the very young
  • Tested therapeutic strategies for the treatment of inflammatory lung diseases in both pediatric and adult populations
  • Developed a nonhuman primate model to study the preclinical biology of COPD pathogenesis

Respiratory Diseases Unit Resources Program

The goal of the Respiratory Diseases Unit Resources program is to make nonhuman primate biological specimens and data collected through our NIH-funded research accessible to the scientific community. Since 1999, Core and Affiliate Scientists within the Respiratory Diseases Unit have used the nonhuman primate as an animal model to address questions related to the development of allergic airways disease and exacerbation by air pollutant exposures. Resources may obtained by completion and approval of the CNPRC RDU Resources Request Form. Instructions for the RDU Resources Request Form may be found here. Priority for distribution of resources is given to federally-funded investigators.

A PDF summarizing RDU capabilities can be downloaded here.

Respiratory Diseases Unit Highlights

  • woman cooking indoors with child nearby

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