Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is used to describe a number of lung diseases that prevent proper breathing. This includes diseases such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic asthma.  It is amongst the most prevalent causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide.  In western countries the main cause of COPD is cigarette smoking, whereas in developing countries cooking fires and pollution are major factors. 

The lungs' airways (bronchi and bronchioles) branch into ever smaller passages and finally terminate at the alveoli, the air sacs where gas exchange occurs. Smoke exposure (from cigarettes or pollution) damages and destroys the walls in the alveoli, decreasing the surface area for gas exchange and increasing the space within the lung tissue (emphysema). This difference can be seen when comparing high resolution images of alveoli of healthy lungs (left) to alveoli from smoke-damaged lungs (right).

COPD often co-occurs with chronic gastrointestinal diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). This suggests there may be crosstalk between the gut and the lung. Some treatments show promise for alleviating IBD, such as the controversial transplantation of faecal microbiomes. However, there are currently no effective therapies for COPD.

In this project, we aim to:

1. Investigate whether the gut microbial community composition is associated with COPD
2. Determine if changes to the gut microbiota affects disease severity
3. Develop therapies for COPD by adjusting the gut microbiota

Principal investigator: Prof. Phil Hugenholtz
Postdoctoral Research Fellow: Dr. Kate Bowerman
Clinical Program Coordinator: Ms. Nancy Lachner


Australian Centre for Ecogenomics
Level 5, Molecular Biosciences Bldg
University of Queensland
Brisbane, Australia

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