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The Lungs – A direct connection to the outside world

Around 18,000 times per day, the lungs take in air with each inhalation, deliver oxygen to the body and release carbon dioxide from the body. This way, they ensure a permanent gas exchange between the human body and the air that surrounds it. Not everything that is taken in is healthy: allergens, viruses and bacteria, as well as harmful gases and dust are present in the inhaled air. Because of this, the task of the nose, upper respiratory tract and the lungs is also to filter, eliminate and/or confine things which could have a harmful effect on the organism. Failing that, diseases of the lung can result.

The Inflammation Research Excellence Cluster concentrates particularly on the most common chronic inflammatory lung diseases, which include COPD and asthma. COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is characterized by coughing, shortness of breath during exercise and a marked deterioration in exhalation. Smoking, pollution, frequent respiratory infections in childhood and a genetic predisposition are all influences which have been verified as causes. Typical symptoms of asthma are a hypersensitivity to ordinarily innocuous stimuli (bronchial hyperresponsiveness) as well as a narrowing of the air passages through an increased formation of mucous, and spasms of the respiratory muscles, which to some extent can lead to seizure-like respiratory distress. Both diseases, COPD as well as asthma, are characterized by inflammatory reactions, differentiated by the profiles of the inflammatory cells which have immigrated to the lungs. The number of those affected with chronic inflammatory lung diseases is increasing worldwide. In Germany alone, several million people suffer from the diseases.

Focus: Experimental Pneumology

The field of “Experimental Pneumology” was established at the Research Center Borstel with substantial support from the Inflammation Research Excellence Cluster. Professor Fehrenbach was appointed as head of “Experimental Pneumology” in order to research with his team the interaction of inflammatory (e.g. lymphocytes, granulocytes) and structure-forming cells (e.g. epithelial, connective tissue, muscular) as well as the resulting correlations between structural and functional changes of inflamed air passages in asthma and COPD. In addition, the team addresses the question as to what extent the lungs’ ability to regenerate themselves in tissue-destoying processes, such as those in COPD that result in the development of emphysema, could be used for therapeutic purposes.

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