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Faculty Spotlight: Beata Kosmider, PhD

News August 28, 2021

Beata KosmiderBeata Kosmider, PhD, Associate Professor of Microbiology, Immunology, and Inflammation at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, is researching ways to stimulate certain cells in the lungs to regenerate so they can repair injury and slow the progression of emphysema. 

Why does she do this work?

“I’ve just always had a general interest in lung function,” she said recently. “Sometimes we don’t realize how many times a day we need to breathe. It’s very important for our body function, to keep us alive.”

So, how often do we breathe? 

It varies, but the average adult respiration rate is about 12 to 20 breaths a minute, she said. 

Dr. Kosmider’s research focuses on the alveolar type II cells in the air sacs (alveoli). They have stem cell potential in the adult lung and are drivers of the regeneration process. These cells proliferate and differentiate to alveolar type I cells, thus repairing damage to the air sacs. 

“This has physiological significance in restoring the loss of the alveolar type I cells and efficient gas exchange. But the molecular mechanism involved in these cell proliferation and differentiation is still not well known, and this contributes to the lack of strategies to enhance lung regeneration,” she said.

Dr. Kosmider joined the Katz faculty in 2015. She is also an Associate Professor at the Center for Inflammation and Lung Research; Thoracic Medicine and Surgery and Biomedical Education and Data Science.

Dr. Kosmider studies emphysema pathophysiology. Emphysema is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that results in shortness of breath and other difficulties in breathing. Smoking is the leading cause of emphysema 

In March, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) awarded her a $2.53 million grant to study the molecular mechanism that leads to the development of emphysema caused by traditional cigarettes. The DOD grant is in response to a problem that has been identified in veterans and the ranks of the active-duty military.

“Current smoking among veterans is considerably higher than among non-veterans in the U.S.,” Dr. Kosmider said. “And smoking during deployment and in soldiers with combat exposure is a growing health problem, particularly among junior enlisted personnel, who have the highest smoking rates in the military.”

The working thesis is that smoking damages alveolar type II cells in air sacs of the lung. The air sacs are in grape-like clusters, but in patients with emphysema, the inner walls of the air sacs become weaker over time and tear apart, creating one large sac. This reduces the surface of the lungs, which, in turn, reduces the oxygen-carbon dioxide diffusion that occurs there and is so vital to the body’s function. The overall result is air being trapped in the lungs and even more shortness of breath.

“We study the reduced Wnt/β-catenin signaling in the alveolar epithelium in emphysema, which is poorly understood,” she said. “What is interesting is that these studies can lead to the development of therapeutic strategies to stimulate lung regeneration by activating this pathway.”

Dr. Gerard Criner, Chair and Professor of Thoracic Medicine and Surgery, and Director of the Temple Lung Center, and Dr. Karim Bahmed, Assistant Professor, Temple Center for Inflammation and Lung Research, serve as co-investigators on this project.

To do their work, researchers are using lungs obtained from transplants of emphysema patients to isolate alveolar type II cells. In addition, they are using as a control group, lungs from non-smoker and smoker organ donors that were not suitable for transplants and were donated for biomedical research. 

In addition to research on the causes of lung injury due to traditional smoking, Dr. Kosmider is researching the damage in the lung caused by electronic cigarettes. Her research was the first to show damage to the human alveolar type II cells after exposure to electronic cigarettes.

This research is being funded by a $1.78 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. 

Understanding the biology of alveolar type II cells has clinical importance. These cells are the main targets of the SARS-CoV-2 in the lung. They have receptors that the virus can bind to and serve as a point of entry to these cells, facilitating infection.

“That’s another reason why understanding the biology of alveolar type II cells is important for proper lung function,” she said.

In July, Dr. Kosmider was one of two of the medical school’s faculty members to be awarded tenure. She said she felt “privileged” to receive the distinction and noted that it carried with it a responsibility to do even more in her field. 

“It gives me motivation for the next phase of my professional activities,” she said. “And it’s also a responsibility to advance the future of research, teaching, and service.”

- Lillian Swanson