People from every walk of life are living healthier, more active lives—thanks to the medical breakthroughs pioneered by American Lung Association researchers and their colleagues worldwide.

Since 1915, our researchers have achieved major milestones in the fight against lung disease by revolutionizing treatment and unlocking secrets of the body's immune system. Premature babies now are less likely to die from respiratory distress syndrome; tuberculosis (TB) rates are at an all-time low; and young and old with chronic lung diseases—including asthma and COPD--are able to breathe easier.

Some of our contributions to research include:

Finding medication that prevents complications and spread of TB

1950: Dr. Edith Lincoln, a grantee, observed that isoniazid, the primary medication against TB, prevented the development of serious complications in children. Later Public Health Service trials underscored isoniazid's important ability to prevent the spread of infection when given to household members of tuberculosis patients.

Uncovering the role of surfactant in babies' lungs

1959: Dr. Mary Ellen Avery, a grantee, discovered that the lungs of babies with respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) lack the fatty substance surfactant. This finding led to ways to treat RDS. It is estimated that more than 800,000 babies’ lives were saved over the next 50 years, with many more since then. For her continued investigative work in this field, Dr. Avery was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1991.

Discovering the gene that causes cystic fibrosis

1989: Dr. Michael Iannuzzi, a grantee, helped discover the cystic fibrosis gene. Cystic fibrosis is an often fatal lung disease that is the result of a defective gene that causes the body to produce abnormally thick mucus, which clogs the lungs and leads to life-threatening lung infections. Finding this gene opened the door for scientists to develop treatments for cystic fibrosis, including gene therapy.

Discovering the flu vaccine is safe for people with asthma

2001: The Airways Clinical Research Network released the results of its first study, the Study of Inactivated Influenza Vaccine in Asthmatics, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This study found that influenza vaccines are safe for both children and adults with asthma. Based on these American Lung Association findings, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends flu shots for children with asthma. Administering the flu vaccine to people with asthma has the potential to significantly reduce hospitalizations and increase cost savings.

Finding a once-daily drug works as well as twice-daily treatment for some asthma patients

2007: This study, conducted by the Airways Clinical Research Centers Network and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that a simpler regimen of a once-a-day combination therapy of inhaled fluticasone plus salmeterol was just as effective as twice-daily treatment of inhaled corticosteroids in patients with mild, persistent asthma. For people with asthma, a simpler treatment plan means fewer drugs to take (and to remember to take) every day and fewer prescription refills. Overall, this reduces medication costs and side effects and makes it easier for people to take their medication as prescribed. For people with asthma who are at least 6 years old and currently using a preventative medication, the use of once-daily fluticasone plus salmeterol, instead of twice-daily fluticasone could save almost $2 billion per year.

Identifying a major oncogene in lung cancer

2008: Dr. Alan Fields, a grantee at Mayo Clinic Florida, identified a major oncogene that may cause the development of lung cancer. He also discovered that a drug approved to treat arthritis may function in inhibiting the growth of tumor cells.

Discovering heartburn medication does not improve asthma in children and adults with no symptoms of acid reflux

2008/2012: The Study of Acid Reflux and Asthma (SARA) examined whether there was a connection between asthma and gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), and whether treatments for GERD decreased asthma flare-ups in adults and children. The results of this study found the longstanding practice of prescribing heartburn medication to be ineffective and unnecessarily expensive for some asthma patients who do not exhibit symptoms associated with acid reflux, such as heartburn or stomach pain. This finding is considered to be the most comprehensive evaluation to date of how effective (or ineffective) prescription heartburn medication is at controlling respiratory flare-ups in people with asthma whose symptoms have not been well controlled by other therapies. Based on results from this research, roughly 1.5 million asthma patients may be taking expensive medication unnecessarily.

Page last updated: July 21, 2020

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