$156,000 grant to fund cystic fibrosis research

June 30, 2009

WORCESTER, Mass. – University of Massachusetts Medical School Research Assistant Professor of Pediatrics Christian Mueller, PhD, was one of ten investigators in North America to receive the prestigious Parker B. Francis Fellowship. A three-year grant totaling $156,000, the Parker B. Francis Fellowship is given to M.D. and Ph.D. scientists embarking on careers in pulmonary diseases and lung biology.

The Fellowship was awarded to Dr. Mueller for his research into the basic mechanisms of lung disease in patients with cystic fibrosis. An inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 children and adults in the United States, cystic fibrosis is caused by a single defective gene which results in the production of unusually thick, sticky mucus. This mucus clogs the lungs, leading to life-threatening pulmonary infections, and obstructs the digestive system’s ability to break down and absorbs foods.

Dr. Mueller’s research has shown that the CF mutation also plays a role in the body’s immune system. Inflammatory problems associated with cystic fibrosis may be inherent in the body’s immune cells, causing the immune system to be dysfunctional. Funding from the Francis Fellowship will be used to determine exactly what cells in the immune system are malfunctioning and by what mechanism the malfunction is caused.

“By understanding the mechanism behind this malfunction, we hope to learn new insights into the inflammatory process associated with CF,” said Mueller. “Using novel gene therapies aimed at regulating these responses, it’s possible that correcting the immune cells may also help relieve the associated lung disease in patients with CF.”

Dr. Mueller is a member of the Gene Therapy Center in the Advanced Therapeutics Cluster at UMMS.

“We are tremendously proud of what Chris has accomplished,” said Terence R. Flotte, MD, dean of the school of medicine. “The Parker B. Francis Fellowship is an outstanding honor which recognizes the contributions Chris has made to our understanding of cystic fibrosis and the potential use of gene therapies to combat this terrible disease.”

About the Parker B. Francis Fellowship Program
In 1951, Parker B. Francis, founder of the Puritan-Bennett Company, Mo., established a foundation bearing his name in Kansas City. Since Puritan-Bennett was a leading manufacturer of respiratory equipment and medical gases, the primary emphasis of the Foundation was related to pulmonary research. Today, the Francis Family Foundation remains the sole benefactor of the Parker B. Francis Fellowship Program, in addition to supporting educational and cultural programs geographically located within the greater Kansas City area. Since 1976, the Foundation has contributed more than $50 million to the Fellowship Program in support of more than 750 Fellows.

About the University of Massachusetts Medical School
The University of Massachusetts Medical School, one of the fastest growing academic health centers in the country, has built a reputation as a world-class research institution, consistently producing noteworthy advances in clinical and basic research. The Medical School attracts more than $200 million in research funding annually, 80 percent of which comes from federal funding sources. The work of UMMS researcher Craig Mello, PhD, an investigator of the prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), and his colleague Andrew Fire, PhD, then of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, toward the discovery of RNA interference was awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and has spawned a new and promising field of research, the global impact of which may prove astounding. The mission of the University of Massachusetts Medical School is to advance the health and well-being of the people of the Commonwealth and the world through pioneering education, research, public service and health care delivery with our clinical partner, UMass Memorial Health Care.

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