In Recognition of National COPD Awareness Month the WDOM Highlights Dr. Martinez and the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine

As November is National COPD Awareness Month, the WDOM recognizes the seminal work of Dr. Martinez and the faculty of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine.

The National Institutes of Health notes that National COPD Awareness Month is a time to unite the COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) community in an effort to help patients, family caregivers and healthcare providers in order to find better treatments and/or a cure for COPD. COPD is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

Dr. Fernando Martinez

Fernando J. Martinez, M.D., M.S., Chief, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, WDOM, has been at the helm of major advances in COPD research throughout his entire career. Under his leadership, the division is bringing transformative innovations to patient care. Dr. Martinez’s division is home to a robust program in research and clinical care medicine that spans all aspects of COPD while garnering substantial funding from the National Institutes of Health (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute) and other top-tier sources.

Serving as Principal Investigator, Dr. Martinez has been leading a premier ever-growing research program that includes large-scale studies, such as the CAPTURE study. This cluster randomized trial is testing whether the CAPTURE screening tool, using simple questions and selective use of peak expiratory flow monitoring, can change the paradigm for COPD diagnosis in the primary care setting. With the goal of uncovering undiagnosed COPD, the study involves approximately 5,000 subjects within 100 primary care practices and provides access to previously undiagnosed patients of ethnic, racial, socioeconomic and regional diversity.

Targeted to a younger at-risk population, Dr. Martinez is leading another pivotal, multicenter study on the early origins of COPD. The study is exploring, from a biological perspective, SAA (small airway abnormality). SAA is considered by many to be the earliest COPD pathology that can transition from a potentially reversible process to irreversible emphysema or airway remodeling. The ultimate goal is to stop COPD progression by understanding its earliest mechanisms.

There are numerous other, widely diverse, projects underway in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. This includes a planned, highly innovative study of endothelial cell progenitors in humans with the goal of trying to ‘regrow’ lung loss in patients with emphysema. This collaborative group is in partnership with Shahin Rafii, M.D., Chief, Division of Regenerative Medicine, Augustine Choi, M.D., the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine and provost for medical affairs of Cornell University, investigators at Angiocrine Bioscience, and Alexandra Racanelli, M.D., Ph.D., an Instructor in Medicine in the pulmonary division. The study is based partly on Dr. Racanelli’s identification of key processes underlying why abnormal lung vessel development in the lung is crucially linked to emphysema (likely a process dependent on the loss of lung blood vessels).

In another state-of-the-art advance, Ben-Gary Harvey, M.D., a national authority on active treatment for patients with advanced emphysema, has promoted the use of cutting-edge bronchoscopic techniques for the treatment of COPD. Approved in the U.S. in 2018 for the treatment of individuals with severe COPD/emphysema (e.g., patients who have limited walking capacity and decreased quality of life), Dr. Harvey employs Bronchoscopic Lung Volume Reduction (BLVR). This therapeutic approach treatment is part of a program launched by Dr. Harvey in collaboration with thoracic surgery colleagues in 2019 and is available only at a limited number of medical centers across the U.S.

COPD researchers 1

L to R: Drs. Augustine M.K. Choi, Ben-Gary Harvey, Robert Kaner, Jamuna Krishnan, Alexandra Racanelli

Additional highlights from the division’s broad research program include:

Augustine Choi, M.D., runs a multicenter Program Project that is unraveling the biological pathways that inform why an individual who smokes (or has other exposures) develops emphysema or scarring/fibrosis (a form of extra, non-functional lung structure).

Robert Kaner, M.D., continues to lead major and ongoing projects that include a multicenter U.S. study of an inexpensive and well tolerated therapy (doxycycline) to stem the development of emphysema in HIV infected patients (a key problem). Dr. Kaner also leads several trials examining new therapies for COPD patients as well as leading several observational studies trying to define the mechanisms underlying the development of COPD and/or accelerated lung aging.

Jamuna Krishnan, M.D., under the guidance of Monika Safford, M.D., is focused on illuminating the complex issues that relate to the increased burden of COPD and associated disorders (cardiovascular disease) among vulnerable populations. In particular, she is targeting these crucial problems in African American women who suffer from COPD and concomitant cardiovascular disease.

Hasina Outtz Reed, M.D., Ph.D., a world expert on lymphatic function in the lung, is defining how their aberrant function is critically linked to the development of emphysema. This crucial investigative arena is expected to lead to new potential therapeutics for emphysema.

Renat Shaykhiev, M.D., Ph.D., an international authority on airway progenitor cells, has identified a unique cell population in the peripheral airways of the lung that likely play a key role in the remodeling of the airway in COPD patients, a key manifestation of SAA. Abnormalities in this cellular population opens new therapeutic options.

Meredith Turetz, M.D., has partnered with numerous care givers across the institution to identify factors that associate with optimal management of the hospitalized COPD patients. Importantly, this program has operationalized processes to enhance successful discharge and minimize the need for short-term readmission to the hospital.

William Zhang, M.D., has identified a crucial problem (abnormal handling of iron) in a key lung inflammatory cell (the macrophage) considered to be a quarterback for a broad series of abnormalities in the COPD lung. This critical line of study is highly amenable to future therapeutic approaches

COPD researchers 2

L to R: Drs. Shahin Rafii, Hasina Outtz Reed, Monika Safford, Renay Shaykhiev, Meredith Turetz, William Zhang

There is a lot to celebrate this November 2022 in recognition of National COPD Awareness Month. Further advances are sure to unfold in 2023.

The WDOM congratulates Dr. Martinez and all of the division’s faculty on their outstanding work in the field of lung disease and critical care medicine.

Dr. Martinez, Chief, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Weill Department of Medicine, is the Bruce Webster Professor of Internal Medicine, a Professor of Medicine, and a Professor of Genetic Medicine at Weill Cornell.