All aspects of airway inflammation are the concern of Burton Dickey, M.D., professor and chair of MD Anderson’s Department of Pulmonary Medicine, and his research faculty.
“We’re studying molecular mechanisms to understand positive and negative aspects of airway inflammation and developing a clinical therapeutic to prevent pneumonia,” he says.
“We have tested an aerosol treatment in mice models that delivers molecules to the lung’s lining and stimulates the body’s defenses to kill invading microbes. We’ve found that the treatment protects against viruses, fungi and pneumonias, even anthrax — in mice.”
The next step is to introduce this treatment, which could be especially important for leukemia patients, into the clinic.
Another area of emphasis concerns the pulmonary status of patients receiving stem cell transplants.
“These patients are susceptible to graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), which can lead to bronchiolitis, an inflammation of the small airways,” Dickey says. “It can progress rapidly so patients can’t breathe, and it looks like asthma.
“Building on the knowledge we are gaining in the laboratory, we’ve found that inhaled steroids can stop GVHD of the airways. Hypertonic saline aerosols can clear the airways of mucus, the build-up of which can prevent the delivery of anti-inflammatory medicine.”
As research expands, Dickey and his group are also looking at how anti-inflammatory drugs can be used in lung cancer chemoprevention.