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Helping Lungs Rebuild Themselves

Melanie Königshoff


Königshoff will build a new Fibrosis and Regeneration Program at CU with a focus on interdisciplinary and translational research.

Lung disease researcher Melanie Königshoff, MD, PhD joined the University of Colorado in November 2016 as a Professor of Medicine in the Division of Pulmonary Sciences and Critical Care Medicine. Her multi-disciplinary research team – representing clinical medicine, molecular and cell biology, pharmacology, and bioengineering – aims to understand how the lung repairs itself, and to create new approaches to repairing and regenerating lung tissue.

Her research stands to benefit patients with pulmonary fibrosis, in which lung tissue becomes scarred and interferes with breathing, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a group of diseases related to the breakdown of lung tissue.

COPD, which is linked with both genetic factors and environmental factors such as tobacco use and pollution, affects almost 5% the world’s population (approximately 329 million people). Königshoff's research group has identified a key pathway involved in lung repair (see sidebar) and is screening both novel and already-approved drugs to find ways to target this pathway.

"In COPD, a lot of things are happening at once, and any or all of them might be impacting this pathway," says Königshoff. "So we want to understand how to activate the pathway, but we also need to know why it’s being de-activated, and what else might be going on to interfere with the repair process. We know there are many different approaches to targeting this pathway."

In addition to her own research, Königshoff will work to consolidate CU's significant research portfolio in lung damage and fibrosis into a new Fibrosis and Regeneration Program.

"There are so many complementary efforts already occurring at CU, but what we can do is enhance the interactions between these groups," says Königshoff. "We can also make a division-wide effort to introduce a more translational approach that will make our research more accessible to others working in related areas. We can do these things alone in each research group, but the potential for collaboration is part of why I was excited to come to CU."

"Melanie is an outstanding physician-scientist who has made fundamental contributions to our basic understanding of advanced lung disease and is poised to make major discoveries that change the way we think about these chronic diseases," said David Schwartz, MD, Chair of the Department of Medicine. "Her creativity, intelligence, dedication, and compassion also make her an ideal mentor for both MD and PhD students and post-docs. I feel very fortunate to have recruited her to our Department."

Königshoff's experience in interdisciplinary research has led her to begin discovering potential areas of collaboration within CU. She intends to create bridges for the new Fibrosis and Regeneration Program with bioengineering groups both at CU Anschutz and at CU Boulder: "Bioengineering is the perfect complement to the work we're doing in the lab. We're focused on endogenous regeneration or repair of lung tissue, but the same approach could also enable us to think about exogenous regeneration, building new lung tissue."

She also notes that much of the research performed by the group will be applicable to other diseases involving fibrosis, and anticipates collaboration with CU's Consortium for Fibrosis Research and Translation (CFRet), one of the centers funded by the CU School of Medicine's Transformational Research Funding initiative.

While Königshoff plans to spend much of her initial time getting her lab up and running, and hopes to bring a few key lab members to CU from her lab at the Helmholtz Comprehensive Pneumology Center in Munich, she looks forward to working with patients in CU's clinics, connecting her research with patient-focused outcomes. Königshoff also has a strong commitment to teaching and mentoring early career scientists and physicians. She notes that the training of physician-scientists is very different in the two countries: "In Germany, there is no general structured program giving MD’s dedicated time to perform research. The U.S. fellowship program represents an important basis and structure to promote translational science, and train future leaders in respiratory medicine."​​​