Translational research is traditionally seen as a one-way path, advancing basic scientific discoveries into medications, diagnostics and other clinical applications that help patients. The Translational Research Initiative at National Jewish Health, however, seeks to foster a more back-and-forth, iterative research process. In addition to the classic path, observations made at the bedside can
also inspire basic scientific research.
"Research should not only be bench-to-bedside, but also bedside-to-bench and back again," said Greg Downey, MD, Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs.
The Translational Research Initiative provides seed funding for collaborations between basic scientists and clinical researchers at National Jewish Health. By bringing together researchers with very different perspectives, tools and approaches, the initiative seeks to develop promising lines of investigation that might not otherwise have occurred. Successful collaborations produce enough preliminary data to earn larger funding from outside institutions.
Cell suicide, Obesity and Asthma
Inside a single human, billions of cells can develop and die in a single day. In most cases, the dying cells are efficiently absorbed and "recycled" by nearby cells. If those dying cells are not absorbed, however, they fall apart and scatter their contents, which can cause all sorts of problems, including autoimmunity, inflammation and damage to nearby cells.
Professor of Pediatrics Donna Bratton, MD, has been a pioneer, along with Peter Henson, MD, PhD, in the study of this cellular recycling process. Recently, Dr. Bratton found that chemicals in the body associated with inflammation, including the type of inflammation present in obesity, appear to alter cells known as macrophages, the main scavengers of dying cells. The altered macrophages do not effectively recognize and consume dying cells.
She approached Associate Professor of Medicine Rand Sutherland, MD, who had sifted through clinical patient data to discover that obesity increases the chances of developing asthma, and that obese patients are more resistant to the most effective asthma medication.
Together, they forged and are testing a hypothesis that systemic inflammation associated with obesity may impair macrophage's ability to recycle dying cells in the airways, thus promoting more inflammation, airway hyperresponsiveness and asthma. Their research could uncover the mechanism that connects asthma and obesity, and suggest potential therapeutic strategies for preventingand fighting asthma among the overweight.