Childhood lung diseases: Infectious and inflammatory mechanisms

Lungs are for life. Unfortunately, the most frequent long-term illnesses in children and babies are respiratory system conditions. Children's lungs can be damaged in many ways: bacterial and viral infections, asthma, or faulty genes causing thick mucus to accumulate in the lungs of children with cystic fibrosis. Even the oxygen and artificial ventilation needed to sustain the lives of premature babies can cause lasting lung damage. A feature shared by all these serious childhood lung diseases is that some of the damage is caused by activation of the innate immune system, which is an important part of our immune defense network. The innate immune system is like a “double-edged” sword. While innate immunity is essential for keeping us healthy, it can cause excessive lung-damaging inflammation if the activity is not carefully controlled.

To prevent lung damage, Dr. Stuart Turvey is examining the systems that control the activity of the innate immune system. These control elements are known as negative regulators. His team will study these negative regulators in a variety of childhood lung diseases spanning premature babies and lung infections through to asthma and cystic fibrosis. The unique aspect of this project, and of Dr. Turvey's group in general, is a commitment to translational research focused on people with lung disease. This means research results from the lab bench are applied directly to patient care.

Rather than relying exclusively on laboratory (animal or cell) models of disease, Dr. Turvey’s team plans to examine genetic material donated by people affected by infectious and inflammatory lung diseases. The results of this work will be an exciting starting point for gaining a better understanding of the causes of childhood lung diseases and developing new medicines to safely control the damaging inflammation that occurs in the lungs of so many babies and children.