Goal 2: Reduce Human Disease

How can we better understand regional tissue heterogeneity in lung disease?

Many lung diseases (IPF, COPD) are characterized by marked heterogeneity at the tissue level. Unfortunately, most of the tools we currently employ to understand lung disease are unable to elucidate the mechanisms that result in regional heterogeneity. Clinical studies and animal models, while invaluable, generally assume that all lung tissue is similarly affected based on the presence or absence of diagnostic criteria for disease (for clinical studies) or presence or absence of a genetic modification or exposure of interest (for animal models). In vitro studies are limited by an inability to recapitulate the complex interactions between multiple cell types, the extracellular matrix, and the local tissue microbiome.

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Is this idea a Compelling Question (CQ) or Critical Challenge (CC)? : Critical Challenge (CC)

Details on the impact of addressing this CQ or CC :

Emerging evidence suggests that diseases such as IPF and COPD have observable phenotypes at the cellular and tissue levels long before the disease is clinically apparent. Thus seemingly healthy patients may have some regions of the lung affected by the same pathophysiologic processes that drive clinically apparent disease. By changing the focus of investigation from the presence or absence of disease in a given patient to the presence of absence of disease in a given region, several advantages emerge: (1) pathophysiologic mechanisms may be investigated earlier in the natural history of a disease, when interventions are more likely to be of benefit; (2) early investigation favors the discovery of distinct disease subgroups that are masked in more severe disease; and (3) a single patient may provide multiple affected and unaffected disease regions, allowing him or her to serve as their own control. Recently, advances in next-generation sequencing have made it possible for the entire transcriptome of a single cell to be analyzed. It is reasonable to believe that in the next 10 years single cell epigenome, proteome, and metabolome profiling will become routine. However, it seems less obvious how these methodologies can be employed to better understand the drivers of regional differences in lung disease. While technically difficult, studies applying high-throughput technologies to the discovery of regional differences will be invaluable to our understanding of lung disease.

Feasibility and challenges of addressing this CQ or CC :

To address this critical challenge, at least five technological hurdles will have to be addressed: (1) technologies such as laser capture microdissection which allow for the isolation or cells from specific areas of the lung will need to improve; (2) technologies allowing for culture of multiple cell types on a single artificial substrate (to allow for experimental manipulation of cellular “communities”) will need to emerge; (3) collaborative networks will need to emerge whereby datasets from multiple labs can be integrated; (4) bioinformatics and statistical methods capable of filtering massive “omics” data sets from multiple cell types will need to be refined; and (5) researchers with the skills necessary to distil large descriptive datasets into testable hypotheses will need to be trained. While these hurdles are great, they must be overcome in order to translate the promise of next-generation sequencing techniques into an improved understanding of the drivers of regional heterogeneity in lung disease.

Name of idea submitter and other team members who worked on this idea : Bradley Richmond


9 net votes
26 up votes
17 down votes
Idea No. 445