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Collaboration in Pediatrics and Environmental Medicine Improves Understanding of Developmental Lung Immunology

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Michael A. O'Reilly, Ph.D.

Michael A. O'Reilly, Ph.D.

Michael O'Reilly, Ph.D., Professor of Pediatrics, is a developmental lung biologist who is interested in understanding how oxygen therapy given to preterm babies affects lung function later in life. Paige Lawrence, Ph.D., Professor of Environmental Medicine, is an immunologist and toxicologist who studies how environmental factors have positive and negative effects on immune system development and function. Their mutual interest in the developmental origins of lung disease led Drs. O'Reilly and Lawrence to establish a fruitful research partnership.

Initially, these investigators collaborated on a study that used a model system in which mice were exposed to increased levels of oxygen at birth. Once the mice reached adulthood, they were infected with influenza virus. Interestingly, the oxygen-exposed mice developed significant interstitial lung disease. In contrast, injection of the virus into non-lung tissues led to a normal immune response and no interstitial lung disease. They concluded that early life oxygen exposure affects the programming of the lung and its ability to mount a normal immune response to infection.

B. Paige Lawrence, Ph.D.

B. Paige Lawrence, Ph.D.

To continue to explore these provocative findings, they recently submitted a grant application to study the expansion of a population of cells in the lung that may be responsible for the disrupted host response to respiratory viral infections. The long-term goal for the project is to identify a target that could be amenable to drug development. This work also involves collaboration with Luis Martinez-Sobrido, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology. In addition, Drs. Lawrence and O'Reilly plan to collaborate on studies of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, a protein that binds hundreds of environmental factors and has an extremely important role in the immune system. Recently obtained data suggest that it also has an important role in the lung. Importantly, the role of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor in the lung has not been extensively investigated.

When discussing their successful collaboration, both noted the importance of overlapping interests, but also differing perspectives. "We have a different toolbox, but it's not so different that we don't understand each other's toolboxes," said Lawrence. O'Reilly added, "She's not asking me to come out of my area of interest and I'm not asking her to come out of hers; so, it's the perfect Venn diagram." This decade-long collaboration has resulted in many publications, funding, and advances in research. O'Reilly and Lawrence are looking forward to continuing their work together with the goal of making additional contributions to our understanding of how fetal and childhood exposures affect lung immune function later in life.

Learn more about the work of the O'Reilly and Lawrence labs.

Recent Publication

Yee M, Gelein R, Mariani TJ, Lawrence BP, O'Reilly MA. "The Oxygen Environment at Birth Specifies the Population of Alveolar Epithelial Stem Cells in the Adult Lung." Stem Cells. 2016 May; 34(5):1396-406. Epub 2016 Mar 07.