UCI Biomedical Engineer Receives $1.8 Million To Study How Asthma Damages The Lungs

UC Irvine biomedical engineer Steven C. George, who is one of the first U.S. scientists to create 3-D living lung tissue, has received a $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to examine how asthma attacks the walls of the bronchial tubes.

Asthma is one of the nation's leading heath issues, especially among children and the elderly. Nearly 500,000 Americans are hospitalized annually and more than 5,000 die annually of asthma. Some 17 million Americans suffer from the chronic lung disease.

"Asthmatics develop a fibrosis on the walls of their airways that becomes increasingly worse as the disease progresses," said George, the William J. Link Professor and Chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, who also holds an appointment in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. "Scientists aren't sure if the disease causes the fibrosis, or if the reverse is true, but understanding the process should help us develop more effective asthma treatments."

Using collagen fibers harvested from connective tissue in the tails of rats and human lungs cells, George has created viable lung tissue approximately the size and thickness of a penny. The tissue lives on a specialized solution made up of salts, sugars and antibiotics.

His research team plans to injure this tissue by compressing and scraping it. These injuries should closely resemble the kind of injuries that occur in asthma. The team will analyze the injured tissue with a laser scanning microscope in the hope of better understanding what leads to the scarring seen in asthmatic's lungs.

George's group includes doctoral graduate students Justin Mih and Jinping Wan, staff research associate Julie Papp, and post-doctoral scholar Roel Bruels, who will join the team next month.

The five-year grant comes from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.