"Rare but Devastating": Maisel Honored for Immunotherapy Research to Treat Deadly Lung Disease in Women
University of Maryland bioengineering researcher and Assistant Professor Katharina Maisel was recently awarded the American Lung Association (ALA) Innovation Award. The Innovation Award is given in support of up-and-coming, exemplary investigators with high potential to advance the field of lung disease science and research. For her project, Maisel received a grant of $75,000 per year for up to two years, totalling $150,000.
Maisel received this grant for her project, “Exploring Adjuvant Immunotherapy to Treat Lymphangioleiomyomatosis Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.”
Maisel’s project seeks to develop new treatment options for Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM), a rare disease that causes cancer-like, cystic destruction of the lungs in women. The abnormal growth of LAM cells within the lungs causes the obstruction and destruction of airway structures and tissues, impairing patients’ ability to breathe and continually decreasing lung function. The deadly disease primarily affects women of reproductive age, with patient survival ranging from 30 to 75 percent within nine years of disease onset, and approximately 20 years if the patient is treated with rapamycin, the first and only FDA-approved treatment.
With only one approved drug, there is a critical lack of options for those diagnosed with LAM. Moreover, rapamycin only stops disease progression but does not eradicate LAM cells altogether, and approximately 30 percent of patients do not respond to rapamycin treatment at all.
Maisel’s research seeks to address this shortage of options with an innovative new approach using immunotherapy. Maisel is investigating adjuvant therapies, a promising immunotherapy for cancer treatment. Similar to cancer cells, the abnormal LAM cells cause a suppression of immune response, meaning little to no antibodies or immune cells are able to fight off the diseased growths. Adjuvant therapies boost the body's immune response by targeting receptors on immune cells. This boost in immune response is what Maisel’s research aims to replicate against LAM.
"The American Lung Association Innovation Award will allow us to continue to improve treatments for the rare but devastating disease, and hopefully lead to a translatable immunotherapy for LAM in the future," says Maisel.
The Innovation Award is a prominent award among the many grants given by the ALA Research Institute. This fall, the ALA Research Institute announced it awarded $13.3 million in research grants towards 129 projects, all working to end lung disease. Maisel was one of four Maryland researchers highlighted in this large grant cycle.
“We are honored to welcome Drs. Katharina Maisel, Ian Saldanha, Bonnie Yeung-Luk, and Rachel Damico to join the elite American Lung Association Research Institute and our efforts to fundamentally transform lung health here in Maryland and across the nation,” said Deborah Brown, Chief Mission Officer at the American Lung Association, in a recent ALA press release. “Our research investment is key to unlocking solutions to alleviate the burden of lung disease,” says Brown. “Because when you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.”
This article is based on a press release from the American Lung Association.
December 5, 2023