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Estelle Cormet-Boyaka, PhD

Award Name Novel/Innovative Methodologies Pilots

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Examining Effects of Cadmium on Airway Epithelial Cells

Estelle Cormet-Boyaka, PhD, received a one year pilot grant from the CCTS for her research on the effect of cadmium on airway epithelial cells. Cadmium is a contaminant found in cigarette smoke and pollution.

Cormet-Boyaka’s lab is primarily interested in studying a protein called CFTR, which is a chloride channel that maintains the liquid homeostasis at the surface of airway epithelial cells. It is already known that a mutation or absence of functional CFTR leads to cystic fibrosis. Cormet-Boyaka’s research is finding that pollutants and more specifically, cadmium, can suppress the expression of CFTR in the lungs.

People who smoke can develop Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). COPD includes two main conditions: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis develops when there is an accumulation of mucus in the lung and it begins to trap bacteria.

“The lung basically cannot get rid of this mucus or those bacteria so we’re trying to understand how cigarette smoke and cadmium, by suppressing CFTR, could contribute to chronic bronchitis,” Cormet-Boyaka said.

Cormet-Boyaka began to study this topic during her post doctorial work on cystic fibrosis and the biology of the CFTR protein. When she came to OSU and joined the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, she was surrounded by colleagues studying smoking and COPD. She then became interested in looking at the link between smoking, CFTR, and COPD.

While funding can be a barrier in research, Cormet-Boyaka notes that the CCTS grant has been helpful.

“The CCTS grant I received basically covered the training to use the laser capture micro-dissection equipment and to be able to use technology that is state-of-the-art,” Cormet-Boyaka said.

The laser capture micro-dissection is an innovative methodology used in Cormet-Boyaka’s lab to select specific cells. For Cormet-Boyaka, this means the bronchial epithelial cells.

“You have a slide of the lungs [from a mouse exposed to cigarette smoke],” Cormet-Boyaka said. “And when you look at your slide you can see the architecture of the lung, the different cells. The CFTR protein is primarily expressed in the bronchial epithelial cells. So with the laser capture micro-dissection we can specifically collect the bronchial epithelial cells and then analyze their content for microRNA, for example.”

Cormet-Boyaka hopes that her research will influence people not to smoke, but mentions that it is more difficult to control for the effects of air pollution. She explains that her findings could have an immediate impact for people with chronic bronchitis.

“Right now the role of CFTR is known only to cystic fibrosis, but what we are trying to do is determine whether CFTR also contributes to the development or worsening of chronic bronchitis,” Cormet-Boyaka said. “There are already drugs that can increase the activity of this protein so these drugs, in addition to cystic fibrosis, could also be used for people with chronic bronchitis.”

By Rachel Bergman, August 14, 2012

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