Research Units

Our internationally recognized investigators are experts in their fields of focus. Our investigators and faculty are continually conducting state-of-the-art research, discovering new methods of treatment, publishing their findings in scholarly journals, and changing the lives of those who suffer from pulmonary diseases. 

Research Labs 

The Molecular Genomics Laboratory: Dr. Donata Vercelli

The Molecular Genomics Laboratory focuses on the mechanisms underlying human complex diseases, particularly asthma and allergy. Human complex diseases are major biomedical challenges, because they are common but difficult to decipher. The complexity of these diseases is reflected by their phenotypic heterogeneity and likely results from intricate interactions among genetic, environmental and developmental factors that modify disease susceptibility and severity.

The ultimate goal of the Molecular Genomics Laboratory is to establish a new paradigm merging analysis of genetic, environmental and developmental determinants of complex disease, functional studies and patient phenotypes in order to understand the causes of disease and predict responsiveness to specific treatments.

The Laboratory is funded by the NHLBI, NIAID, NIEHS, the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network and the Arizona Biomedical Research Commission.

The Airway Genetics and Immunology Laboratory: Dr. Tara Carr and Dr. Fernando Martinez

The Airway Genetics and Immunology Laboratory is involved in a search for genetic and environmental factors that predispose an individual to the development of asthma, allergies and other airway diseases.  We are involved in several longitudinal studies of cohorts of individuals enrolled at birth or early childhood and followed into adulthood.  By genotyping the DNA from children enrolled in these studies, we are able to identify the specific polymorphisms in the genes that are associated with phenotypes of asthma, allergy, or to response to current therapies.  Identification of these polymorphisms may contribute to our understanding of these complex conditions,  suggest strategies for prevention, and allow physicians to customize treatment in the future. 

The Airway Pathology Lab: Dr. Scott Boitano

Scott Boitano, PhD, and his lab focus on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Lung disease is expanding worldwide, and is one of the top uncontrolled American epidemics. It leaves about 900,000 Americans too ill to work, costing billions in medical care and lost productivity. Most of the disease is linked to smoking and to environmental and occupational conditions. Dr. Boitano’s main focus is the affect of arsenic on the lung’s epithelial cells. The interactions between arsenic and the body’s tissues affect lives not just in Chile, Mexico, or Bangladesh – where arsenic in drinking water can reach very dangerous levels of up to 500 or even 1,000 ppb—but everywhere. Dr. Boitano is studying the long-term risks found in many American cities and towns where arsenic values are between 50 and 10 ppb, and where there are strong changes in how cells signal each other and repair wounds.

The Romanoski Lab

The overarching goal of the Romanoski Lab is to better understand the mechanisms by which DNA sequence instructs molecular programs that underlie human biology. We are particularly interested in complex diseases such as atherosclerosis and hypertension, which are caused by combinations of environmental and genetic risk factors. While these diseases involve many cell types, our research is focused on endothelial cells, which line blood vessels and form the barrier between blood and tissue.

Our laboratory is both experimental and computational. We use next-generation sequencing technologies to measure genome-wide molecular phenotypes. By leveraging the interconnected relationships between DNA sequence, transcription factor binding, chromatin modification, and gene expression, we study how cells achieve context-appropriate expression patterns and signal responsiveness.

Ongoing projects in the lab include systems genetics of endothelial cells, transcriptional network determination in different endothelial beds, and functional genetics of GWAS loci.


The Cusanovich Lab

The Cusanovich lab is interested in understanding how the human genome regulates itself to bring about all of the cellular diversity present in our bodies. In addition, we are interested in how genetic variation and environmental exposures in human populations impact that regulation and sometimes lead to complex disease. The particular disease model that we focus on is asthma, a complex disease affecting ~10-20% of the population. The reasons we think that single-cell approaches would be particularly applicable to asthma are: (1) the disease involves complex interactions between many cell types of the lung and immune system that are difficult to model; And (2) there are several exquisitely detailed examples of gene-environment interactions that influence asthma outcomes many years later, but we still know relatively little about the molecular mechanisms that lead from exposure to disease. To study these phenomena, we use single-cell genomics technologies so that we can evaluate the impact of genetic and environmental variability from the perspective of whole tissues rather than having to isolate individual cell types or use simplistic cellular models. Working at the nexus of functional genomics, computational biology, and cellular biology, our group is both experimental and computational and often has to develop novel technologies or methods to address our research questions.



The Ledford Lab

The Ledford lab is focused on determining mechanisms by which endogenous lung proteins mediate various states of lung inflammation, pathogen infection and lung disease progression using a translational research approach between human samples and mouse models. Studies are currently focused around the action of two proteins, surfactant protein-A (SP-A) and club cell secretory protein-16 (CC16). Based on mechanistic studies of these two endogenous proteins, another aspect of the lab has moved into drug development and testing in pre-clinical animal models. Her research lab is funded by the NIH with 2-R01s and an R21.


The UAHS Center for Sleep Disorders

The UAHS Center for Sleep Disorders, directed by Dr. Sai Parthasarathy, is an A2DRC affiliate that focuses on the relationship between sleep, breathing, and inflammation in both ambulatory and critically ill patients. The sleep lab also conducts clinical trials of novel modes of ventilatory assistance for patients with sleep-disordered breathing (such as servo-ventilation and volume-

assured pressure support) as well as health services research aimed at improving healthcare delivery and promoting CPAP adherence in patients with sleep-disordered breathing. A prevalent sleep problem researched by the Parthasarathy lab and the Center for Sleep is sleep apnea, a condition in which a patient experiences abnormal pauses in breathing during sleep. Left untreated, the disorder can increase the risk for heart attack, stroke, heart failure or even sudden death. Today, sleep apnea is as common as diabetes or asthma.

The Center for Sleep Disorders is located in Rooms 6524 and 6525 on the sixth floor of College of Medicine, and is staffed by a multidisciplinary team of sleep medicine experts with backgrounds in pulmonary, pediatrics, psychiatry and psychology.

The Center for Sleep Disorders is funded by the following projects:

  1. Implementing Peer-Driven Care to patients with sleep apnea (PCORI; number pending)
  2. Monitoring and Peer Support to Improve Treatment Adherence and Outcomes in Patients with Overlap Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Sleep Apnea via a Large PCORnet Collaboration (O2VERLAP)(PCORI-PPRND-1507-31666)
  3. Predictive Analytics and Peer-Driven Intervention for Guideline-based Care for Sleep Apnea (R56HL138377)
  4. Neurocognitive Impairment in Children with Congenital Heart Disease and Sleep-Disordered Breathing (AASM Foundation; 150-JF-16)
  5. Non-inferiority study of telemedicine versus conventional CBT-I in recently Hospitalized Patients with Insomnia (AASM Foundation; 169-SR-17)
  6. American Sleep Medicine Foundation: Improving Screening for Sleep Disorders in Children with Epilepsy among Pediatric Providers (AASM Foundation165-FP-17)
  7. Network Management Core (NEMO) for the Pulmonary Trials Cooperative's (PTC) INtervention Study In overweiGHT patients with COPD (INSIGHT COPD))COPD Foundation - subaward) (U01HL128954)
  8. Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) Agreement (NIH-NHLBI; DLD)(IPA-014264-00001)
  9. Assessment of sleep by Whoop in Ambulatory Subjects (no number)
  10. Impact of Low Flow Nocturnal Oxygen Therapy On Hospital Readmission/Mortality in Patients with Heart Failure and Central Sleep Apneal (LOFT-HF)(UG3HL140144)
  11. Bioinformatics-based Comparative Effectiveness Research on the Effect of Positive Airway Pressure Therapy Adherence on Rehospitalization and Mortality in Patients with Multiple Chronic Medical Conditions (HRC-1504-RETROPAP-UAZ)
  12. Arizona Pride-25: Translational Approaches to Health Disparities in the Lung. (2R25HL-126140-05)

Population Sciences Unit

The Population Sciences Unit focuses on clinical research studies in the area of epidemiology to advance our understanding of the natural development of asthma, COPD, and other complex respiratory diseases. 

Dr. Stefano Guerra, director of Population Sciences, received a $3.6 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease to determine if the regulation of a protein found in lung cells might impact the persistence of asthma in those who suffer from childhood to adulthood. This study is an international consortium among leading asthma research groups. These groups include Asthma & Airway Disease Research Center (A2DRC), Sweden’s BAMSE (the Swedish abbreviation of Children, Allergy, Milieu, Stockholm, Epidemiology) and the United Kingdom’s Manchester Asthma and Allergy Study (MAAS). Each one of these groups brings an abundance of data over multiple decades.  This project will build upon these findings and focus on the CC16 protein in the lung, which is a biomarker of injury to epithelial cells that line the lungs and are believed to be a protective mediator in the airway inflammatory process. This work will lead to a more personalized approach to therapies for people who suffer from adult chronic asthma.

The Asthma & Airway Disease Research Center Clinical Research Unit 

The Asthma and Airway Disease Research Center Clinical Research Unit (CRU) conducts research in asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis (CF), and food allergy. This research is funded by a variety of sources including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the American Lung Association (ALA), the Patient-Centered Outcomes and Research Institute (PCORI) and various industries. The unit provides Center investigators with services such as assistance in preparing grant applications, recruitment and retention for clinical studies, clinical study visits, budgets for recruitment/retention and clinical study visits, human subjects applications, regulatory issues, and pilot studies. Participants in our studies come from around the state and many have been involved in research for several years. We strive to provide excellent service for our research participants. Participants are given contact information to the ARC via a study ID card and a participant folder. The main ARC number is provided, as well as the after-hours cell phone number which is in service 24 hours a day/7 days a week. In addition, we are in an easy to find location on the main floor of the Banner-University Medical Center, next to the cafeteria, and are close to patient parking areas. We are also 100 yards away from the Emergency Department at University Medical Center. Compensation is provided for study participation.

Our space consists of approximately 10,000 square feet of contiguous research and administrative space. This includes 15 dedicated private exam rooms with a wide variety of medical equipment including pulmonary specific equipment like spirometers. These rooms have seating configurations appropriate for clinical assessment and patient/family education. This also includes space specially designed for pediatric patients. We have two dedicated subject waiting rooms with video and activities for subjects, 2 individual manager offices, and 2 large offices for research coordinators We have a dedicated locked and private room for research records and drug storage. We have private rooms to conduct the consent and assent process as well as consult with study physicians. All rooms have access to telephone and secure, wireless Internet. Computer/IT facilities at the performance site include desktop and laptop computers with institutional and local firewalls. In addition to our physician investigators, our staff includes two research managers, one full-time nurse practitioner, two research nurses, one LPN, two registered respiratory therapists, and eight research coordinators/technicians. We have a dedicated phlebotomy room for drawing blood and processing of samples. Researchers in this proposal have offices located at the Asthma & Airway Disease Research Center that are within walking distance from one another, and from the clinical research unit.

Visit the CRU  

The Systems Biology Lab (SBL)

The Systems Biology Laboratory at the University of Arizona’s Asthma & Airway Disease Research Center combines expert domain knowledge in immunobiology with the powerful tools of systems biology to obtain mechanistic insight into the role of the immune system in the pathogenesis of asthma.The long-term goal of this work is to unlock the molecular secrets that govern the early origins of asthma and develop new approaches to predict disease development and avoid disease transition.