Most people—even non-scientists—are more aware of our lungs than we are of our other organs. Still, even the most advanced researchers know surprisingly little about the details of lung structure, particularly during the earliest stages of development. This lack of detailed understanding means that medicine has a long way to go in fighting respiratory conditions such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), pneumonia, bronchitis, and pulmonary fibrosis.
Since June 2014, RTI has been part of a broad consortium participating in the Molecular Atlas of Lung Development Program, or LungMAP, the first effort to create a comprehensive, web-based atlas of the lung in both humans and mice. Researchers in this coalition are analyzing samples from donated lung tissue at the molecular level and collecting two- and three-dimensional images of lung anatomy at different stages of normal, early development. By working toward a greater understanding of how the lung develops, we will pave the way for insights into new and lifesaving treatments for respiratory diseases.
Collecting and Managing Data from Five Research Centers in the BREATH Database
In alliance with the Duke Clinical Research Institute, RTI serves as the data coordinating center for the LungMAP project, making us a hub for the five hospital- and university-based centers conducting research on mouse and human lungs. We build and maintain a web-based, publicly available database, known as BREATH, where researchers can explore the results of the LungMAP research centers’ work in imaging, proteomics, lipidomics, genomics, epigenetics, and metabolomics. While the research centers investigate the lung, we build the resource that makes their data available to the broader scientific community.
In addition to drawing on our capabilities in data collection and analysis, this project also requires RTI expertise in systems biology to meet the needs of our partner researchers and others interested in studying lung development. LungMAP researchers generate terabytes of data on lung cell types throughout development, as well as data on genes, proteins, and lipids expressed by those cell types. Available at the LungMAP site, our BREATH database creates quick and accessible links to this information and helps researchers place it in the context of the body’s biological networks.
Arming Researchers, Students, and Educators with Current and User-Friendly Data on Lung Development
LungMAP is a dynamic and expanding project, and the site has garnered attention from the worldwide community of lung researchers and educators. We release an updated version of the database three times per year, and have utilized user experience testing to make the page more accessible to lung researchers, students, and educators.
Since LungMAP started in June 2014, we have presented the project at a special session at the American Thoracic Society Conference and at other conferences, raising awareness of its value to the research community.
While other research groups around the world are developing atlases of other body systems, ours is the only one dedicated to the lungs. When complete, LungMAP will take its place among these cutting-edge, detailed resources, influencing medical research for decades to come.