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Gabriele Grunig, D.V.M., Ph.D.

Photo of Gabriele Grunig, D.V.M., Ph.D.Gabriele Grunig, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York
Muscularization of Pulmonary Arteries Induced by an Adaptive Immune Response

Administered by the NHLBI Division of Lung Diseases, Lung Biology and Disease Branch
FY 2009 Recovery Act Funding: $180,089

Additional Funding:
Muscularization of Pulmonary Arteries Induced by an Adaptive Immune Response
Administered by the NHLBI Division of Lung Diseases, Lung Biology and Disease Branch
FY 2010 Recovery Act Funding: $232,440
More information about the grant
Total funding: $412,529

Persistence Pays: In 2006, Gabriele Grunig, D.V.M., Ph.D., lacked the two things she needed to continue her research in lung immunology: a lab and funding. As Dr. Grunig explained, the National Institute of Health's flat budget in recent years resulted in tighter competition for grants offered by organizations such as the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association, as well as other sources she had relied upon since earning her doctorate in immunology from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., in 1994.

"Many had given up all hope that I would be able to receive funding and to sustain a career in academic medicine," she said. Two colleagues who believed in Dr. Grunig's work, one at Columbia University and the other at New York University (NYU) Medical Center, gave her the lab space she needed to apply for grants. "They told me to just be persistent, keep plugging away," she said. "That was their mantra." Dr. Grunig adopted this mantra as her own.

Fast forward to June 2009. Dr. Grunig brought a bouquet of flowers to the NYU staff who had helped her with her grant applications. Her colleagues in turn had a surprise for Dr. Grunig: She had been awarded a $180,089 Recovery Act grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). "I did a little dance and we celebrated," she said. "Then I e-mailed everyone I knew."

Research Focus: Dr. Grunig will investigate the mechanisms that cause a thickening (i.e., remodeling) of the arteries in the lungs. This thickening is frequently seen in pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), a devastating disease marked by high blood pressure (hypertension) in the arteries that carry blood from the heart to the lungs. Currently, there is no cure for PAH, which can decrease heart and lung function and lead to heart failure.

"I am working on aspects of pulmonary hypertension that are associated with autoimmune diseases, chronic inflammatory conditions such as cigarette smoke-induced lung disease, and parasitic infections of the pulmonary artery," said Dr. Grunig. Her research will build upon previous studies by other scientists on the link between the cellular signaling molecule interleukin 13 and asthma, pulmonary arterial remodeling, and PAH.

Dr. Grunig's research has two goals: to determine which cell types make up the thickened arterial walls and to understand the function of resistin-like molecule (RELM&#945 in PAH. RELM&#945 has been linked to the development of smooth muscle cells, the type of cells found in the remodeled pulmonary arteries; however, RELM&#945's role in pulmonary arterial thickening has not been widely studied. If there is a link between RELM&#945 and PAH, then it is possible that drugs that block RELM&#945 would have therapeutic benefits. The study is also likely to have indirect clinical applications by increasing the understanding of the mechanisms of action of currently used drugs or drugs in clinical trials.

Economic Impact: Dr. Grunig hired an experienced lab technician, Maureen Sisco, who had lost her job at NYU's Institute of Environmental Medicine in 2008. The economic downturn caused a funding shortage at the institution, and the technician had been let go after working there for 17 years.

"Since Maureen has such extensive work experience at the institute, she knows many of the other scientists and can facilitate collaborations," said Dr. Grunig.

Dr. Grunig also used the Recovery Act funding from the NHLBI to lease for purchase from an American company a flow cytometer to analyze cells in the lungs and bronchial tubes, or airways, from mice models. The cells can be analyzed using specific detection reagents that are labeled with fluorescence - the instrument can detect seven different colors, cell size, and intracellular contents simultaneously.

A Passion for Science and for Horses: A passionate equestrian, Dr. Grunig first became interested in biomedical research at the University of Zurich in Switzerland while studying to become a veterinarian. For her thesis project, she examined how inhaled particles in the air of barns could cause recurrent airway narrowing in horses. "I decided that scientific work is the best, most challenging, and most exciting profession for me," she said.

Later, during her doctoral work in immunology at Cornell University, Dr. Grunig realized that she wanted to focus her scientific work on identifying the mechanisms of disease. Her postdoctoral research at DNAX Research Institute,Palo Alto, Calif., and the Lung Biology Center, University of California, San Francisco, studied mediators that control antigen-induced lung disease using mouse models.

Outside of the lab, Dr. Grunig and her horse, Princess Tiger, ride dressage. She writes about this passion on her Web site, linking her hobby to her scientific studies:

Princess Tiger and I ride dressage, a dance that embodies the spirit of the free horse. Expression through movement evokes great joy in life.

A requisite for free movement is breathing, a perfectly coordinated process that connects air flow, blood flow and cardiac function.

The immune system is the guardian of breathing. The immune response is fine-tuned to the environment in order to protect [the body] from infection and to efficiently remove dusts and aerosols.

Dr. Grunig believes that her research will contribute to the rapidly evolving area of pulmonary immunology. "I have a good model and good questions that will move the knowledge base," she notes. "Are the cells within thickened pulmonary arteries smooth muscle cells that had been remodeled-or are they other types of cells that moved into the arteries and developed into smooth muscle cells? There is almost nothing known about this question."

By Sheila Walsh

Last Updated:August 10, 2010

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