Our COPD Research

What does it take to outwit lung disease? Bold, brave research! Our investigators are involved in projects that cover all the bases, from studying how diseases work to developing real-world therapies. 

Below, you’ll learn more about the COPD research projects we are currently funding. Interested in applying for a research grant? Learn about our opportunities here

Asthma Research Projects


Dr. Jeremy Hirota

Inhibiting ABCC4 to potentiate β2-agonist and glucocorticoid responses in COPD

Amount Awarded: $49,750

Chronic respiratory diseases including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and cystic fibrosis are responsible for over $5 billion of direct health care costs each year in Canada, impacting over 3 million Canadians of varying demographics. Presently there are no cures for these chronic respiratory diseases with treatment strategies instead targeting symptoms to control inflammation in the lung and how easily air can enter and leave the lungs. Unfortunately, for a subset of individuals with COPD, the best-approved medications fail to work optimally. Exploring new ways to improve how the best-approved medications work in these COPD patients may provide new treatment strategies for controlling lung inflammation, easing the process of breathing, and provide health care savings in Canada.

We will study how a molecule called ATP Binding Cassette Transporter C4 (ABCC4) works in the lung to stop inflammation and prevent the damaging effects of cigarette smoke, using cells from humans and an animal model of COPD. We will use two distinct approaches for our proposed research:

  • We will perform experiments on airway epithelial cells, the first line of defence in the lung, removed from healthy subjects and those with COPD to examine how the best-approved medications work in these subjects and how drugs targeting ABCC4 could improve their activity.
  • We will perform experiments using a mouse model of chronic cigarette smoke exposure that mimics human COPD. For this experiment, we will use genetically modified mice that are deficient in the ABCC4 molecule. Relative to genetically normal mice, we anticipate that genetically modified mice that lack ABCC4 will have a better response to the best-approved drugs.

To our knowledge, we are the first in the world to explore how the best-approved drugs could be improved by also blocking ABCC4. Our published results in human cells already demonstrate that this can work, but this is only from healthy individuals, which may vary from individuals with COPD and a history of smoking. We need to confirm that this happens in cells from individuals with COPD and in a mouse model of COPD. The combination of our experiments using clinically relevant human cell samples and genetically modified mice gives our research group a competitive edge that is unique internationally. We also have a provisional patent on novel ABCC4 inhibitor compounds that we will test in our proposed experiments.

COPD management is a significant cost and burden on the health care system in Canada and throughout the world. To manage COPD, it is recommended to use relievers and controllers that allow the air to come in and out of the lungs more easily and to reduce lung inflammation, respectively. The best-approved drugs do not work in all COPD patients, leaving many prone to difficulty in breathing and frequent hospitalizations. Improving how the best-approved drugs work in these difficult to treat COPD patients will improve their lives and those of their caregivers. Our study is the first to explore how a molecule called ABCC4 may be crucial to improving how the best-approved drugs work in COPD patients. If the results of our proposed studies are promising, we can pursue the development of our novel drugs that inhibit ABCC4 as potential new therapies to help the thousands of Canadians living with COPD.

Dr. Nicholas Vozoris

The potential impact of synthetic oral cannabinoid use on respiratory outcomes among older adults with COPD

Amount Awarded: $29,625

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a common, long-term, lung disorder caused by being exposed to cigarette smoke or biomass fuels. COPD affects about 4-10% of Canadians and occurs more often among older adults. COPD is the leading cause of coming to hospital in Canada among those with chronic sicknesses and it poses a big financial strain on our health care system. COPD can often cause more than just lung symptoms, including such things as chronic pain and poor sleep. Cannabinoids are a class of prescription drugs with pain-reducing and sleep-promoting abilities. Cannabinoids are chemically similar to pot, except that they come in pill form and are swallowed. By potentially reducing pain, poor sleep and difficult-to-control shortness of breath, cannabinoid drugs may help prevent people with COPD from suddenly getting unwell in terms of their lungs. However, there are several ways that cannabinoids might also negatively affect the lung health of people with COPD. We do not have studies on how cannabinoid drugs affect the lung health of people with COPD. The extent and the ways with which cannabinoids drugs are presently used among people with COPD are also unknown.

The purposes of this research are:

  • To describe the extent and ways in which cannabinoid drugs are presently being used among older adults with COPD versus older adults without COPD.
  • Among older adults with COPD, to evaluate what potential impact cannabinoid drugs have on lung health, specifically, on acute lung illness and death.

This study will involve analysis of data contained in multiple, Ontario government, health databases. The health databases contain information on the sociodemographics, health, prescription drug use, and health care system use of Ontarians. Individuals diagnosed with COPD and users of cannabinoid drugs will be identified from these databases. Negative lung-related events will be examined among new and non-users of cannabinoids, including COPD or pneumonia-related doctor visits, emergency room visits, hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions and death.

This study is unique because it will be based on an analysis of a very large and population representative sample of about 150,000 older Ontarians with COPD. There is no information presently available on the scope and pattern of cannabinoid drug use among older adults with COPD, nor on the potential impact of cannabinoid drug use on lung health in this population.

Our research will help patients and health care professionals better understand what potential impact cannabinoid drugs have on lung health in COPD and this is a topic that we presently know little about. If cannabinoids are found to have good effects, our research may lead to these drugs being used more often and helping people with COPD, especially those persons who are suffering from chronic pain, poor sleep or difficult-to-control shortness of breath. If cannabinoids are found to have negative effects, doctors will know to be more careful about prescribing cannabinoids, and as a result, older adults with COPD may be protected from possible bad medication effects.


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