Edward Crandall, Ph.D., M.D.

Hasting Professor of Medicine

Director, Will Rogers Institute Pulmonary Research Center

While rooted in pulmonary health from the beginning, the Will Rogers Institute Pulmonary Research Center has shifted its focus over the last 18 months to research the effects of COVID-19. Here is an example of what they have been working on recently:

  • Keck Medicine launched Los Angeles’ first multidisciplinary recovery clinic in January. It’s open to patients whose symptoms linger past six weeks. A core team of a primary care physician, pulmonologist and physical therapist assesses each long-hauler and develops an individual plan of care.
  • USC has plans to continue their COVID-19 response to Long-Haulers and preparing for the next pandemic by studying all that has been learned from COVID-19. USC is running approximately 500 projects between the Engineering, Pharmacy and Medical schools, dedicated to researching COVID-19. The Will Rogers Institute Pulmonary Research laboratory is dedicated to studying this particular virus so that we can learn to prevent not only this virus, but future pandemics as well.

Apart from studies related to the pandemic, Dr. Crandall’s research team continues to expand its activities in cell biology and physiology of the pulmonary alveolar epithelium. Their studies on basic lung pathobiology have relevance to many applied problems, including:

  • Air Pollution
  • Chronis Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Interstitial Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF)
  • Lung Injury

Dr. Crandall’s laboratory utilizes purified lung cell populations grown under controlled conditions. In particular, the alveolar epithelial cells that line the 300 million air sacs in the adult human lung are the primary cells of interest. Using various experimental models of alveolar epithelium, they have shown that the sodium “pump” in the lung helps save lives by removing water from the air spaces, thereby allowing normal uptake of oxygen and excretion of carbon dioxide, processes necessary for normal life. Among their most important recent findings:

  • Keratinocyte growth factor (KGF) can markedly influence the function and differentiation of alveolar epithelial cells
  • Alveolar epithelial cells exhibit “plasticity” in their differentiation characteristics (i.e., they can go forward and backward as they transdifferentiate)
  • Differentiation of alveolar epithelial cells markedly affects the expression of specific genes in these cells
  • Stem cells may be capable of replacing alveolar epithelial cells during recovery from lung injury
  • Exposure of alveolar epithelial cells to inhaled nanoparticles triggers complex intracellular defense mechanisms which cause low level cellular injury that, over a lifetime of exposure, may lead to chronic lung diseases (e.g., COPD and IPF)

These findings together hold promise for the development of new therapeutic tools with which to prevent and treat lung injury/disease using gene- and/or cell-based approaches.