The Rock Lab studies how the many different cell types of our lungs are generated during development and how they respond to normal wear and tear, acute injury and disease. The underlying hypothesis is that aberrant (stem) cell behaviors explain many features of lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis, asthma, and pulmonary fibrosis. We use in vivo and in vitro models to identify and test the progenitor capacity of putative stem cell populations and the molecular mechanisms and environmental influences (i.e., niches) that regulate their proliferation and differentiation. Our ultimate goal is to identify genetic, molecular and cellular therapies for the treatment of lung disease.
Section of a small airway from a patient with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) stained with antibodies against cytokeratin 5 (K5, green) and K14 (red). Relatively normal regions of pseudostratified mucociliary epithelium (right) are frequently seen in close proximity to regions of squamous metaplasia with expansion of the K14+/K5+ population of basal stem cells (left). We are interested in understanding how genetic and environmental signals modulate changes such as this and how these, in turn, affect airway homeostasis.