Lung Diseases

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) conducts and supports research that expands our understanding of lung biology and how lung diseases start and progress, as well as studies and clinical trials that lead to new and improved ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent lung diseases.

Research Making a Difference

Research Making a Difference

Until now, we didn’t know that this subgroup of smokers with undetected lung disease was so large."
COPD is now the third leading cause of death in the United States. But thanks to a pair of studies supported by the NHLBI, scientists are continuing to shed new light on this chronic lung disease in the hope of reducing its impact through a better understanding of the earliest stages of the disease.
Patient speaking with doctor.
WHY IT'S IMPORTANT

NHLBI research has the potential to improve the health and quality of life for people with lung diseases. Lung diseases affect tens of millions of people. In the United States, nearly 25 million people—including over 6 million children—have asthma, and nearly 16 million people have COPD.

Asthma

NHLBI-supported research on asthma has led to more and better treatment and prevention options. We have funded studies on promising new treatments, provided better information about treatments for different levels of asthma severity, and discovered other differences between patients that may help health care professionals predict how patients may respond to treatment or how their disease may progress.

COPD

Research supported by the NHLBI has shown that certain treatments and lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, can help people with COPD stay more active and slow the progression of COPD. Current studies are looking at the potential benefits of treating COPD in its earliest stages. Research is also underway to develop medicines that can prevent disease progression.

Other Lung Diseases

The NHLBI supports research on many other lung diseases, including rare diseases such as pulmonary fibrosis, cystic fibrosis, and lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM). Although rare lung diseases affect fewer people, the burden they place on those affected can be significant. The NHLBI also is committed to researching sleep-related breathing disorders, such as sleep apnea. Read Sleep Science and Sleep Disorders for more information.

KEY ACCOMPLISHMENTS
  • The NHLBI, with input from federal and nonfederal partners, developed a COPD National Action Plan to guide efforts to reduce the burden of COPD.
  • NHLBI-supported research found that long-term oxygen treatment does not benefit most people who have COPD and moderately low levels of blood oxygen.
  • We supported the Multicenter International LAM Efficacy of Sirolimus (MILES) trial that showed sirolimus to be a safe and effective treatment for LAM.
  • Our research found that a common pulmonary function test may not detect COPD in millions of smokers.
  • The NHLBI helped develop guidelines for the diagnosis and management of asthma, which include new approaches for monitoring asthma control.
  • An NHLBI-funded study of children with mild, persistent asthma showed that they could take acetaminophen for pain or fever without worsening their asthma.
OPPORTUNITIES & CHALLENGES

NHLBI-supported research has made, and continues to make, significant progress in improving the diagnosis and treatment of lung diseases. We will continue these efforts, while also meeting additional challenges, such as finding ways to prevent lung diseases and reduce health disparities. In 2016, NHLBI released its Strategic Vision, which will guide the Institute’s research activities for the coming decade. Many of the objectives, compelling questions, and critical challenges identified in the plan focus on lung biology and diseases. Training the next generation of lung scientists is also a high priority for NHLBI.

More Information

Scientific advances have created opportunities to detect lung diseases in their earliest stages, before they cause symptoms, and to prevent disease progression. Our research will leverage these advances to develop and test interventions that could prevent those lung diseases from affecting a person’s quality of life or causing permanent lung damage.

Our research also seeks to address health disparities related to lung diseases. For example, minority and economically disadvantaged children who have asthma have significantly worse outcomes than white and wealthier children. The NHLBI is supporting research on new, community-level approaches to improve treatment outcomes and close this disparity gap. 

Advancing the Research

The NHLBI is advancing lung disease research in many ways. Learn about some of NHLBI’s efforts to support research on asthma, COPD, and other lung diseases.

We Perform Research

NHLBI’s Division of Intramural Research and its Pulmonary Branch study diseases that affect the lungs. Specific projects aim to answer clinically relevant questions using methods ranging from molecular-level studies to clinical studies of diagnostics, therapeutics, and interventions.

We Fund Research

The research we fund today will help improve the Nation’s lung health. Our Division of Lung Diseases supports research on the causes, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of lung diseases. The Division also supports and coordinates NIH research on sleep through its National Center on Sleep Disorders Research.

The Promise of Precision Medicine

Through NHLBI’s Trans-Omics for Precision Medicine (TOPMed) program, researchers will use data from studies focused on heart, lung, blood and sleep disorders to better predict, prevent, diagnose, and treat sleep disorders based on a patient’s unique genes, environment, and molecular signatures. Learn more about NHLBI precision medicine activities.

Collaborating to Improve Asthma Awareness

The National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP) raises awareness about asthma as a major public health problem. Working with medical associations, voluntary health organizations, and community programs, NAEPP helps to educate patients, health care professionals, and the public about asthma.

Supporting New Approaches to Asthma Treatment

AsthmaNet is a nationwide clinical research network that develops and conducts studies to explore new approaches for treating asthma from childhood through adulthood. AsthmaNet studies are being conducted in 13 states.

Increasing and Sustaining Research to Reduce the Burden of COPD

The NHLBI, with input from federal and nonfederal partners, developed a COPD National Action Plan to guide stakeholders nationwide in their efforts to reduce the burden of COPD. The NHLBI’s COPD Learn More Breathe Better program seeks to increase the awareness and understanding of COPD and encourage people at risk to get tested.

Studying the Risks and Benefits of Surgery to Treat Emphysema

The National Emphysema Treatment Trial (NETT) was a landmark study that clarified the risks and benefits of lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS) to treat patients whose COPD is mainly emphysema. LVRS reduces the size of the lungs to make breathing easier. The NETT also helped identify which patients are most likely to benefit from LVRS.

Fostering Research on New Treatments for Lung Diseases

The Centers for Advanced Diagnostics and Experimental Therapeutics in Lung Diseases (CADET) program stimulates the development of new treatments for lung diseases and sleep disorders. The first stage, CADET I, supported research on how lung diseases develop. The second stage, CADET II, is funding research on new drugs.

Providing Resources for Research

The Lung Tissue Research Consortium (LTRC) provides human lung tissues to qualified investigators for use in their research. The program enrolls patients who are planning to have lung surgery, collects blood and other clinical data from these donors, and stores donated tissue that otherwise would be discarded after the lung surgery. The LTRC provides tissue samples and data at no cost to approved investigators.

Supporting Research Collaboration

The Pulmonary Trials Cooperative brings together patients, researchers, and health care professionals from more than 50 institutions, with a common goal of developing new treatments and testing current clinical care practices.

Advancing the Understanding of Lung Development

The Molecular Atlas of Lung Development Program (LungMAP) is integrating many datasets to build a molecular map of the developing lung in both humans and mice. The program is helping advance lung research, in part through its web-based data resource, called BREATH, that allows users to access LungMAP data and findings.

Improving Critical Care for Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)

NHLBI’s ARDS Clinical Trial Network (ARDSNet) has enrolled over 5,000 patients in 10 randomized controlled trials and one observational study. ARDSNet study results have improved ARDS survival, informed best practices for treating patients with ARDS, optimized methods for ARDS clinical trials, and collected biospecimens to support future ARDS research.

Improving Earlier Treatment and Prevention of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome

NHLBI’s Prevention and Early Treatment of Acute Lung Injury (PETAL) Clinical Trials Network consists of 12 clinical centers and one clinical coordinating center. From 2014-2021, PETAL will build on ARDSNet as it aims to test new treatments or approaches to improve clinical outcomes for patients at risk for or who already have ARDS.

Providing Access to NHLBI Biologic Specimens and Data

The Biologic Specimen and Data Repositories Information Coordinating Center (BioLINCC) centralizes and integrates biospecimens and clinical data that were once stored in separate repositories. Researchers can find and access available resources on BioLINCC’s secure website, which maximizes the value of these resources and advances heart, lung, blood, and sleep research.

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