Taking on the Stairs: Locally Impacting Lung Disease

Dec 29, 2021 at 11:48 am by pj


The Fight For Air Climb Orlando will be celebrating its 15th Anniversary on February 19, 2022. This event was masterminded by a lung cancer patient in 2007 and has since raised a combined $1.5 million to address the burden of lung disease for all living in Central Florida. Prior to the start of the pandemic, participants would gather at 390 North Orange Avenue, now the City National Bank building, to take on the 25 flights/512 steps of one of Orlando’s tallest skyscrapers. This event, like so many others in our community, had to pivot with the onset of COVID-19 and was taken outside to Exploria Stadium.  

The Fight For Air Climb event embraces participants with lung disease connections ranging from lung cancer, asthma, COPD, and the 28 lung diseases the American Lung Association touches. Consider these facts:

  • Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of both men and women in the United States with nearly two thirds of people diagnosed with lung cancer having never smoked or are former smokers.
  • COPD is the third leading cause of disease-related death in the United States.
  • Asthma leads to more than 13.8 million mossed school days annually, and 14.2 million lost workdays in adults. Asthma results in 439,000 hospitalizations and 1.3 million emergency room visits annually.
  • On average more than 200,000 people are hospitalized yearly from influenza complications.

Hundreds of individuals from throughout Central Florida have participated in this event with the promise of making an impact for those living with lung disease. The results of those individual’s efforts are continuously realized right here in our own backyard.

Locally, that impact has been realized through research awards as well as patient education programs. Over the past two years alone, the American Lung Association was proud to award two $100,000 research awards to the University of Central Florida’s College of Medicine. The first was a Lung Cancer Discovery Award granted to Griffith Parks, Ph.D. which focused on using a virus to treat lung cancer. The project started with the basis that Viruses are now being used as anti-cancer agents. His goal was to design a cancer therapy based on a virus called parainfluenza virus 5, which naturally infects the respiratory tract but is not associated with human disease. Using a mouse model system, his team would combine a mutant version of parainfluenza virus which is specific for lung tumor cells and a type of normal human immune cell called Natural Killer (NK) cells, which recognize cancer cells and kill them. Through this combined approach his research team would harness the immune system's ability to recognize this novel virus to aid in clearance of lung cancer cells. Dr. Parks provided an update to his research earlier this year in March 2021 noting This project is based on our recent progress in development of a novel approach to use oncolytic viruses (which preferentially infect and kill cancer cells) to harness the power of NK cells for lung cancer therapy. In the past funding period, we identified the most effective viral vector for “marking” lung cancer cells for killing by NK cells. Using a novel real-time assay and 3-dimensional cultures of lung cancer cells, we have uncovered a two-step mechanism by which NK cells first kill the outer layer of virus-infected cells, but then proceed to continue killing un-infected lung cancer cells deep within the 3-dimensional culture. We plan to couple the viral-mediated deliver of “markers” with our 2-step model for activation NK cell-killing of lung cancer cells.

A $100,000 Innovation Award was granted the following year to Dr. Justine Tigno-Aranjuez with a focus on improving the treatment of asthma. The project focused on current therapies for asthma that were largely focused on symptom management. According to her proposal, there was still a need to understand the events that occur during the initiation of asthma in order to develop novel treatments which can change the disease course, rather than simply manage it. Around half of people with asthma suffer from an allergic form of the disease, and understanding how our body recognizes allergens may be important in trying to prevent an allergic asthmatic response from occurring.  In October 2021, Dr. Tigno-Aranjuez provided an update to her Lung Association funded research that thanks to this research award, they had discovered a novel role for LMAN1 as a cell surface receptor for house dust mite allergens. Her team's research uncovered that LMAN1 binds house dust mite allergens to inhibit allergic inflammatory responses. Their next steps involve trying to understand the mechanisms underlying the ability of LMAN1 to carry out those regulatory effects. Going forward, this information may help determine whether LMAN1 may be a suitable therapeutic target for allergic inflammatory diseases.

These are just two examples of how dollars are being put to work to realize our vision of a world free of lung disease. The Fight For Air Climb has impacted countless lives of people living with lung disease and their loved ones, creating unique connections and providing education and resources to help everyone breathe easier. To read more about the impact of events like the Fight For Air Climb, visit www.FightForAirClimb.org/orlando. Funds raised through this event support lifesaving research and local lung disease education programs right here in Central Florida.

When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.

 Janelle Hom, is Executive Director, American Lung Association in Florida.

Sections: Grand Rounds