The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has awarded Weill Cornell Medical College a $14.2 million Specialized Centers Of Interdisciplinary Research (SCCOR) grant to fund genetic research in COPD. The announcement coincides with the launch of NHLBI’s public outreach campaign, “COPD Learn More Breathe Better.”

“In the next 10 years, genetic research will allow us to revolutionize the prevention and treatment of COPD. We will be able to predict those individuals who are at increased risk of developing COPD, and offer early detection prior to development of symptoms and individualized therapies for those with the disease,” said Ronald Crystal, MD, chairman of the Department of Genetic Medicine and Bruce Webster Professor of Internal Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College. “Our first step will be to identify the specific genes responsible for susceptibility and resistance to COPD,” adds Crystal, who is also chief of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Crystal explains that while smoking is the primary risk factor for COPD, there exists genetic variation between individuals that dictates a range of risk for developing the disease. “Genetic variability is why a one pack-a-day smoker develops COPD, while another person with the same habit never does.”

Genetic research in COPD will open the door for new classes of drugs developed to treat patients, and to prevent the disease in genetically susceptible individuals.

More than 12 million adult Americans have physician-diagnosed COPD, with an estimated 12 million more undiagnosed. The disease comprises chronic bronchitis and emphysema—both characterized by obstruction to airflow that interferes with normal breathing. COPD is the 4th leading cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States.

The COPD Learn More Breathe Better campaign, which will roll out throughout 2007, includes targeted print and radio public service announcements (PSAs). The PSAs are supplemented by fact sheets for patients and those at risk, a fact card for health care professionals, a Web site, an educational video, and materials to help community-level organizations further educate the public about the signs and symptoms of COPD.

Genetic medicine is a major focus of Weill Cornell’s new $1 billion capital campaign, “Discoveries That Make a Difference,” launched in October 2006.