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John LiPuma, M.D.

Photo of John LiPuma, M.D.
John LiPuma, M.D.
Professor and Associate Chair for Research, Department of Pediatrics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
The Lung Microbiota in Cystic Fibrosis

Administered by the NHLBI Division of Cardiovascular Sciences, Vascular Biology and Hypertension Branch
FY 2009 Recovery Act Funding: $499,999

Research Focus: While medicine has made great strides in helping people with cystic fibrosis live longer, patients still become sick and die from chronic infection of their airways and lungs. Researchers suspect that changes in the group of microbes that infect these patients' lungs - known as the lung microbiota - worsen lung disease. University of Michigan pediatrician and epidemiologist John LiPuma, M.D. wants to better understand the lung microbiota, how changes in the microbiota affect patients' health, and how these lead to lung disease in cystic fibrosis.

Grant Close Up: Recovery Act funding from the NHLBI will allow Dr. LiPuma to boost scientific knowledge of the composition and dynamics of the lung microbiota in cystic fibrosis patients. He and his team will analyze an existing collection of sputum samples (phlegm mixed with saliva) taken from several hundred cystic fibrosis patients over the past 10 years. They will note the characteristics of the lung microbiota in each patient - including the number, types, and proportions of microbes over time - and try to correlate changes in the microbiota to changes in the patients' health.

"Comparing microbial community structure in individual patients when they're healthy and when they're sick, and between patients who have similar or different clinical status, will help us associate specific characteristics of the lung microbiota with the progression of lung disease," said Dr. LiPuma.

Dr. LiPuma's research could provide important insights into how lung disease arises in cystic fibrosis patients. It may also help speed up the translation of such basic knowledge into better prevention and treatment plans.

He would not have been able to pursue this line of research without the Recovery Act grant.

Economic Impact: In addition to making the project possible, Recovery Act funds allowed the lab to hire a "very talented young research scientist who just completed his Ph.D. studies and who, although new to cystic fibrosis, is exceptionally well trained in microbiomic research," said Dr. LiPuma. The funds also allowed a young research assistant, who would otherwise have been let go, to keep his job.

The funds further allowed the lab to buy the expensive chemicals and equipment needed to carry out their research.

Last but not least, the funds enabled collaboration with other labs at the University of Michigan and beyond that are interested in microbiome research.

"I frequently meet and have conference calls with these colleagues. This is a very intellectually stimulating and exciting part of my work," said Dr. LiPuma. "Interacting with junior investigators is particularly rewarding."

Finding his Path: "I have always been curious about the natural world - and particularly drawn to biology and medicine," said Dr. LiPuma. He knew as a child that he wanted to pursue a career in medicine and biomedical research, but it wasn't until medical school that he realized pediatrics had the most appeal. "I can think of no more fulfilling career than helping to improve the health of children," he said.

Outside the Lab: "As the father of a child with special needs," he said, "I am grateful for the time I spend with my family."

The Dream: "I want to be able to say that I played a significant role in improving the health of children," said Dr. LiPuma of his ultimate goal in medical research. "More specifically, I want to know that my research contributed to overcoming the devastating effects of lung infection on the lives of children with cystic fibrosis."

By Stephanie Dutchen

Last Updated:August 10, 2010

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