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Environmental Medicine (click for I.F.E.M web site)

Penn's Institute for Environmental Medicine is the hub of environmental medicine research. The current research interests of Institute investigators encompass both basic and applied biomedical studies with special emphasis on undersea and aerospace environments and on the interface of the environment with the respiratory and nervous systems. Their research programs are oriented toward the following environmentally-relevant problems. At the Pulmonary Fluid Biomechanics Laboratory at the School of Engineering and Applied Science, research is conducted on issues of Fluid Mechanics, with special interests in liquid, gas, particle, and heat flow in the human respiratory system.

Program in Cellular and Molecular Biology of the Lung - A. Fisher, Program Leader

This program investigates basic processes in the function of lung epithelium and metabolism of lung surfactant. Emphasis is on lipid and protein synthesis, and on secretion, reuptake, and intracellular processing of surfactant using isolated cell and intact lung systems. Funding is primarily by a Program Project grant from NHLBI with participating investigators from the departments of Physiology, Medicine, and Pediatrics.

Program research areas and investigators:

Exo/Endocytosis and Phospholipid Metabolism (Fisher, Shuman, Bates, Zimmerman)

  • Uptake and recycling of surfactant by pulmonary epithelium.
  • Cell membrane receptors for surfactant proteins.
  • Biochemistry and function of lung phospholipase A2.
  • Fusinogenic proteins and proteolysis in lamellar body exocytosis.
Processing of Surfactant Associated Proteins (Beers)
  • Synthesis and processing of hydrophobic surfactant proteins.
  • Characterization of surfactant proteins in alveolar proteinosis.
Mechanisms of Gene Expression (Feinstein)
  • Promoter mapping of genes for lung surfactant apolipoproteins.
  • Transcription factors for surfactant-associated protein gene promoters.
Lung Development (Ballard)
  • Glucocorticoid regulation of surfactant protein synthesis.
  • Gene expression in human fetal epithelium.
Intercellular Communication (Koval)
  • Identification of connexins in lung cells.

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Center for Hyperbaric Oxygenation Therapy - S. Thom, Center Leader

This program is oriented toward understanding the role of hyperbaric oxygen therapy and indications for treatment of patients. Special emphasis is directed towards the pathophysiology and mechanisms for CO poisoning. Current clinical trials include patients with CO exposure and patients with chronic radiation cystitis. Participating investigators are from departments of Emergency Medicine, Physiology, and Pediatrics, and the Institute's clinical staff. Funding is primarily by grants from NIEHS and private foundations.

Program research areas and investigators:

Mechanisms of CO Toxicity (Thom, Ischiropoulos)

  • Mechanisms of CO-mediated vascular stress.
  • Leukocytes and amplification of brain injury in CO poisoning.
Oxygen Transport and Oxidative Metabolism ( Buerk)
  • Simultaneous measurement of tissue PO2, nitric oxide and blood flow in the optic nerve.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: Clinical Trials ( Thom, Clinical Staff)
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy and delayed sequelae of CO poisoning.
  • Clinical trials for radiation cystitis.

Environmental Biomedical Research Center - C. Lambertsen, Center Leader

This program is oriented toward study of the physiology and pathophysiology of oxygen at concentrations below and above the normal. The program incorporates the Environmental Biomedical Research Data Center, a repository for data related to diving medicine and hyperbaric oxygenation therapy. Participating investigators are from the departments of Pharmacology and Anesthesiology. Funding is by grants from the US Navy (NMRDC), NASA and NOAA.

Program research areas and investigators:

Tolerance to Hypoxia and Hyperoxia (Lambertsen, Clark, Gelfand)

  • Use of CO2 in humans to accelerate CNS adaptation to hypoxia.
  • Effects of CO2 and exercise in humans on CNS tolerance to hyperoxia.
Environmental Biomedical Research Data Center ( Lambertsen, Flynn)
  • Incorporation of oxygen tolerance and decompression research data for use in the prevention and therapy of decompression sickness.
  • Aid to national and international laboratories and agencies in development of undersea and aerospace decompression methods, using computer programs and analysis procedures developed by the Data Center.

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Center for Research in Acute Lung Injury - A. Fisher, Center Leader

The focus for this program is mechanisms for lung injury with emphasis on the Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). There is special interest in the initiation of lung injury due to oxidation events and the development of assays for early detection. The program incorporates a registry for ARDS patients. Funding is primarily by R-01 grants from NHLBI. Participating investigators are from the departments of Physiology, Pharmacology and Medicine.

Program research areas and investigators:

Lung Ischemic Injury (Fisher, Al-Mehdi)

  • Mechanisms of oxidative injury in ischemia-reperfusion.
  • NADPH oxidase and endothelial ROS generation.
Biomarkers of Oxidant Stress (Ischiropoulos)
  • Serum protein oxidation and nitration in RDS.
  • Oxidation of mitochondrial DNA.
  • Peroxynitrite and apoptosis.
Immunotargeting and Antioxidant Defenses (Muzykantov)
  • Targeting of antioxidants to pulmonary endothelium using immunochemical methods.
  • Targeting of glucose oxidase as a model of lung endothelial oxidative injury.
Fc gamma Receptors (Schreiber)
  • Induction of Fc gamma receptors in ARDS.
  • ROS production by PMN.
Surfactant in Acute Lung Injury (Beers)
  • Metabolism of surfactant in pneumocystis carinii pneumonia

School of Engineering and Applied Science Pulmonary Fluid Mechanics Laboratory - P. Peter Scherer, Director

The laboratory studies Biofluid Mechanics, with special interests in liquid, gas, particle, and heat flow in the human respiratory system. Topics of research are:
  • Delivery of medications by inhaled aerosols
  • Flow and mixing of gases in the lung
  • Fluid mechanics of coughing
  • Interaction of the respiratory system with the environment
  • Cause of respiratory tract infections and diseases
  • Measurement and correction of resistance to nasal air flow
  • Heat and water transport in the respiratory system
  • Mass transfer in the nasal cavity
  • Uptake of pollutants and odorants in the nose and lung
  • Obtaining diagnostic information from respiratory gas washout
  • Flow and deposition of hygroscopic aerosols in the lung
For more information on Pennís Institute for Environmental Medicine, please visit

For more information on the Pulmonary Fluid Mechanics Laboratory, please visit http://www.seas.upenn.edu/be/labs/pfmlab/

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Biological Engineering Network at the University of Pennsylvania
1010 Vagelos Research Labs / 3340 Smith Walk / Philadelphia PA 19104-6383
tel. 215-573-6813 ~ fax. 215-573-6815 ~ e-mail: ben-penn@pobox.upenn.edu