In the first of a 4-part series, Augustine M.K. Choi, MD, Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City speaks with Pulmonology Advisor about the role of autophagy in the lungs.
I am Augustine Choi. I am a physician scientist trained in pulmonary and critical care medicine, and I am currently the dean of Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. My research interest is trying to better understand the mechanisms of how the lung gets damaged, how the lung can defend itself, and, of course, the ultimate goal of finding diagnostics and therapeutics in lung diseases.
Pulmonology Advisor: Can you talk about the role of autophagy in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and the candidate genes that may serve as a molecular target for that?
The process of autophagy in the mammalian system or the human system has been really characterized intensely in the last decade or so. From the basic sciences to translational science to human studies, we have focused on the role of autophagy. Autophagy is a very highly conserved mechanism of how cells respond to cellular stress. Our laboratory has focused on the study of autophagy in our basic sciences and our translational science institutional studies. That approach aligns very well with what we are trying to do here at Weill Cornell Medicine, where we are trying to make fundamental discoveries, apply those discoveries, and translate them to human diseases. Our research program is perfectly aligned for that.
It is an interesting process: how cells use the autophagy process to defend against cellular stresses. Interestingly, though, what we found in emphysema is that autophagy is not a protective mechanism, but a deleterious one. So, too much autophagy is bad for you, and we are trying determine the mechanism of how the autophagy process is driven in the lung.
Disclosures: Dr. Choi is the cofounder of Proterris, a company that aims to develop CO therapeutically.