Lab Canada

$1.3M research chair in airway inflammation named at University of Alberta

Edmonton, AB – The University of Alberta’s Harissios Vliagoftis has been appointed GSK-CIHR chair in airway inflammation. The chair – which grows out of an existing partnership between the University of Alberta, GlaxoSmithKline Inc. (GSK), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which was initially established in May 2011 – provides continued funding of just over $1.3 million through to 2020.


In pre-clinical research, Dr. Vliagoftis and his team have already demonstrated the importance of focusing on a receptor called protease-activated receptor 2 (PAR2) which, when activated by allergens in the lungs, contributes to inflammation. “My hope is that by measuring PAR2, we can help indicate the severity of patients’ asthma and, more importantly, provide insight into the most effective treatment option,” he said.


“Dr. Vliagoftis is an outstanding example of a true translational scientist. He has an active clinical practice focusing on asthma patients, which has led him to develop a set of important hypotheses on the causative factors in the initiation of the asthma response,” said David Evans, vice-dean of research at the U of A’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry. “He is investigating these factors as part of his chairmanship and I look forward to the outcomes of his research. I’m confident he will continue to make important contributions to improving the management of asthma.”


In addition to his new chairmanship, Dr. Vliagoftis is also a professor of medicine, the director of the Division of Pulmonary Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry as well as a director with the Lung Association, Alberta & NWT. He works with a team of four graduate students, a postdoctoral fellow and a technician.


The study of PAR2 is the centre of one of his main interests: biomarkers. PAR2 is more prevalent on cells in the airways of a person with asthma than it is in those without the condition and the receptor is present in larger numbers on cells that circulate in the peripheral blood in patients with more severe asthma. He believes further study of the receptor will help reveal more effective treatments.


“Biomarkers are of great interest for the research community these days, especially as we delve into personalized medicine, where a new drug may not be right for everybody with the disease,” he said, adding that test results could inform physicians of which drug would effectively treat the condition.


He has previously also received funding from Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions (the former Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research) and the National Sanitarium Association. Importantly, these findings may also have applications beyond lungs. He has said the PAR2 receptor is often active in other conditions characterized by inflammation, such as colitis and chronic pain.