October 6, 2003

$7M grant funds respiratory syndrome research

By Alicia Sands Lurry

As part of a recently launched study funded by a $7 million grant from the Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism branch of the National Institutes of Health, School of Medicine researchers are working to combat acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and its association with chronic alcohol abuse. The five-year study is a collaboration with the Emory Alcohol and Lung Biology Center.

According to the American Lung Association, every year as many as 150,000 people in the United States develop ARDS, a life-threatening condition in which inflammation of the lungs and accumulation of fluid in the air sacs leads to low blood-oxygen levels. Of those individuals diagnosed, the mortality rate is nearly 50 percent.

The condition is commonly caused by any major lung inflammation or injury. Other common causes include pneumonia, septic shock, trauma, aspiration of gastric contents or chemical inhalation. Marc Moss, associate professor of medicine and section director of pulmonary, allergy and critical care at Grady Hospital, said ARDS also is associated with a history of chronic alcohol abuse. Moss serves as principal investigator of the patient-oriented component of the study.

The $7 million grant awarded in February 2003 is shared by investigators in medicine, physiology and pediatrics. The inpatient study focuses on critically ill patients at Grady, Crawford Long, Emory Hospital and the V.A. Medical Center.

David Guidot, associate professor of medicine at the V.A. and director of the Alcohol and Lung Biology Center, is the study’s principal investigator. Lou Ann Brown, associate professor of pediatrics, directs the scientific aspect of the center.

Moss and his colleagues are examining whether alcoholism predisposes a person to factors that contribute to ARDS. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association several years ago identified patients with a history of chronic alcohol abuse who also had an increased incidence and severity for developing ARDS. Moss’ previous research reveals that patients with evidence of chronic alcohol abuse were found to have a slightly higher incidence of respiratory complications compared with those trauma patients with no evidence of chronic alcohol abuse.

“We’re hoping to determine the mechanism of exactly what alcohol does to affect lung function and lung structure so that when someone becomes acutely ill, they go on to develop ARDS,” Moss said. “We also want to identify a predictive marker for the development of ARDS, especially in people who have a history of chronic alcohol abuse, and better understand the effects of chronic alcohol abuse on neuromuscular dysfunction and quality of life in ARDS survivors.”