Dr. Troy Stevens, director of the University of South Alabama Center for Lung Biology, was recently awarded a Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) award by the National Institutes of Health, and in the process joined an elite group of biomedical scientists whose research is deemed distinctively superior and holds great promise for continued advancement and accomplishments in research.
MERIT awards are among the most selective grants awarded by NIH. Only a small number of NIH-funded investigators are chosen to receive MERIT awards. Dr. Stevens’ research has been funded consecutively by NIH for the past 15 years. MERIT awards typically are funded for up to 10 years, which could extend his research funding from the NIH’s National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute through 2021.
Dr. Stevens’ research interests focus on diseases of the lung vasculature, including acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In this project, he is working to better understand the molecular make-up and function of a calcium channel commonly associated with pulmonary edema, an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the lungs that makes breathing difficult, and is life-threatening. Pulmonary edema is a serious complication that occurs with prevalent illnesses such as heart failure, lung infections and pneumonia. Mortality rates from edema in the lungs can be as high as 40 percent.
“We are interested in better understanding a complex chain of events that take place when patients suffer from pulmonary edema,” explained Dr. Stevens, who also serves as professor of pharmacology and internal medicine at the USA College of Medicine. “Our efforts are focused on ultimately identifying novel molecular targets for drug development, to prevent edema from forming and to limit its severity once the process has been initiated.”
Throughout the University’s history, Dr. Stevens is one of only five USA researchers selected for a MERIT award. Previous awardees are: Dr. David Wood, professor and chair of microbiology; and retired medical school professors Drs. Marcel Conrad, Aubrey Taylor, and Herbert Winkler.
“We congratulate Dr. Stevens for this distinct honor recognizing the quality of his research and the significant potential of his work to improve the lives of those who suffer from lung diseases and injuries,” said Dr. Samuel J. Strada, dean of the USA College of Medicine.
Beyond the benefit of increasing the understanding and treatment of pulmonary diseases, NIH research funding also enhances USA’s mission in training scientists. According to Dr. Stevens, four current medical school faculty members - three at USA and one at the University of Alabama at Birmingham - and a senior National Institutes of Health scientist were supported by this NIH grant while training in his lab.
The USA Center for Lung Biology (CLB) was created in 2002 to improve the understanding and treatment of pulmonary diseases as well as support the training of both scientists and physicians interested in pulmonary medicine. The Center is comprised of 35 faculty members from various backgrounds with a common interest in pulmonary research and care. Since 2002, NIH has continuously funded faculty in the Center. The CLB garners more than $7.5 million annually for its research activities, mostly from NIH.