With the goal of enhancing research in lung disease, which affects millions of Americans each year, the Hastings Foundation has pledged $7.5 million over five years to establish The Hastings Center for Pulmonary Research (HCPR) at Keck Medicine of USC.

The center, directed by Zea Borok, MD, chief, division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at Keck Medicine of USC, brings together basic and translational researchers and clinicians to create a nationally recognized center of excellence for advanced lung disease that builds on existing collaborations within and outside of Keck Medicine.

“This gift builds on the relationship between the Hastings Foundation and USC that has lasted more than 50 years,” said David Tirrell, PhD, president of the foundation’s board of directors. “We are pleased with the pulmonary research we’ve seen at the Keck School of Medicine, and felt we could expand on that history by establishing the center to provide a focal point for research and recruitment of faculty.”

The center’s research will focus on lung injury, repair and regeneration in an effort to discover new treatments and cures for pulmonary diseases that affect millions of people worldwide, including cystic fibrosis (CF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). The center will also collaborate with clinicians in the USC Clinical Center for Advanced Lung Disease and investigators in the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC.

“We expect this generous gift from the Hastings Foundation will help us greatly enhance pulmonary research and clinical medicine at Keck Medicine of USC,” said Borok, who is also professor of medicine and biochemistry and molecular biology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “This gift will support our efforts to recruit renowned scientists and promising young researchers in basic lung biology, epigenetics, regenerative medicine and stem cell research, complementing our current research efforts with their knowledge and expertise.”

Chronic lung disease, which includes conditions such as pulmonary fibrosis, CF, COPD, asthma and pulmonary hypertension, affects tens of millions of people in the United States. According to the American Lung Association, COPD (a group of chronic disorders primarily related to cigarette smoking) affects up to 15 million Americans and accounts for nearly 125,000 deaths annually. IPF, which causes progressive disability, has mortality rates approaching those of lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death among men and women. According to the Coalition for Pulmonary Fibrosis, the disease has no known cause and affects about 128,000 Americans. Nearly 30 million Americans suffer from asthma, a condition in which the victim’s airways become inflamed and narrow, impeding breathing. Pulmonary hypertension, a rare condition, occurs when pressure in the pulmonary arteries, which lead to the heart and lungs, increases. The condition affects about 200,000 Americans every year.

The HCPR will bring together all scientists at USC currently working on lung-related investigations to create shared resources as well as opportunities for scientific interaction and collaboration, thereby expanding the scope of lung research at USC.

“The HCPR will attract the best and brightest scientists and students studying advanced lung disease, adding to our medical school’s strength in research,” said Keck School of Medicine of USC Dean Carmen A. Puliafito, M.D., M.B.A. “The Keck School is dedicated to finding new treatments and cures for everything from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease to restoring hearing and eyesight. We’re grateful to the Hastings Foundation for their support of our work to cure lung disease.”

Recruitment of faculty is currently underway. An inaugural symposium launching the center is planned for March 2016.

The Hastings Foundation has supported pulmonary research at USC since the 1960s in the form of Hastings Professorships. Current Hastings Professors include Edward Crandall, PhD, MD, chair, Department of Medicine; Frank Gilliland, PhD, associate professor of preventive medicine and Parviz Minoo, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics. In addition, other investigators at USC working on lung research include the Keck School’s Ite Laird-Offringa, PhD, associate professor of surgery and biochemistry and molecular biology; Adupa Rao, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine; Omid Akbari, PhD, associate professor of molecular and cellular immunology, and Jae Jung, PhD, chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, as well as Paul Beringer, PharmD, associate professor of clinical pharmacy, USC School of Pharmacy.

by Leslie Ridgeway