Professor Peter Barnes of the National Heart and Lung Institute has been awarded the Edward Livingston Trudeau Medal by the American Thoracic Society.
The Trudeau Medal is given in recognition of lifelong major contributions to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of lung disease through leadership in research, education or clinical care. Professor Peter Barnes joins a list of notable awardees, stretching back to 1926 when Theobald Smith became the first winner. Professor Barnes, Honorary Consultant Physician at Royal Brompton Hospital, commented he was “surprised and honoured to have been recognised, and delighted to be the first winner of this award from the UK".
“This international award is very prestigious and emphasises the enormous and ground breaking contribution that Peter has made in research in airways disease over many years” Professor Wisia Wedzicha
Professor Barnes joined the Cardiothoracic Institute, a precursor of the National Heart and Lung institute (NHLI), in 1985 as the first Professor of Clinical Pharmacology, taking over the Chair of Thoracic Medicine in 1987 when Professor Margaret Turner-Warwick retired. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2007, has been a member of the Scientific Committee of global guidelines on asthma (GINA) and COPD (GOLD) and President of the European Respiratory Society. He also led the NHLI’s Airways Disease Section for many years and was recently listed as one of the world’s most highly cited scientists. Professor Wisia Wedzicha, co-lead of the Respiratory Division at NHLI, noted “This international award is very prestigious and emphasises the enormous and ground breaking contribution that Peter has made in research in airways disease over many years”.
Peter's research is focused on cellular and molecular mechanisms of asthma and COPD, understanding and developing therapies and research into biomarkers for these diseases. He is involved in multidisciplinary translational research which integrates basic science with clinical studies, thereby providing novel insights into common airway diseases.
The award is given in honour of Edward Livingston Trudeau, a founder and the first president of the American Lung Association. Edward was an American physician who established the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium and the Saranac Laboratory for the treatment and study of tuberculosis. This was the first laboratory in the United States dedicated to the study of tuberculosis. He was also a public health pioneer who helped to establish principles for disease prevention and control.
Reflecting on his time at NHLI Professor Barnes commented “I think my personal highlight is working with so many talented researchers at NHLI allowing a multidisciplinary approach to lung diseases”. I asked Peter to share three research highlights from his career so far.
Corticosteroids and airway disease
Understanding the molecular mechanisms of how corticosteroids work so effectively in asthma but are largely ineffective in COPD. We demonstrated that activation of inflammatory genes in asthma and COPD involves acetylation of core histones and that these genes can be switched off again by the activated glucocorticoid receptors recruiting histone deacetylase-2 (HDAC2) to deacetylate histones at inflammatory genes and thus switch them off. We showed that in COPD HDAC2 was markedly reduced as a result of oxidative stress, thus preventing steroids from suppressing inflammatory genes (steroid resistance).
Exhaled nitric oxide
We were the first to demonstrate that asthmatic patients had increased levels of nitric oxide (NO) in their breath and that this was derived from inducible nitric oxide synthase enzyme in airway epithelial cells. We also showed that increased exhaled NO (FeNO) was reduced by inhaled steroids, and increased after allergen challenge and in exacerbations. We also established the optimal way to measure FeNO, which has now become a routine test for non-invasively assessing airway inflammation in asthmatic patients.
Molecular mechanisms of accelerated ageing
My current research is to understand the molecular mechanisms of accelerated ageing, which appears to be a major driving mechanism of COPD. We have shown that cellular senescence is a key abnormality in lung cells from COPD patients, and that accelerated ageing is related to a loss of endogenous anti-ageing molecule such as sirtuin-1. We have studied the microRNAs that are increased in COPD cells and suppress sirtuins, leading to cellular senescence. We are currently exploring how these microRNAs are transported from cell to cell in extracellular vesicles which may account for disease progression, and also for comorbidities of COPD which also involve accelerated ageing. By understanding the molecular pathways of accelerated ageing, we have identified novel therapeutic targets for the development of new treatments for COPD and multimorbidity.
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