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K-State Today

September 29, 2023

Division of Biology professor receives grant from American Lung Association to study influenza A infection

Submitted by Division of Biology

Pankaj Baral, second from left, at 2023 K-INBRE symposium with members of his research laboratory. From left to right, Michael Bartkoski (undergraduate student), Dr. Baral, and graduate students Prabhu Joshi, Chinemerem Onah, and Sandeep Adhikari.

Pankaj Baral, assistant professor of biology, received a $200,000 grant from the American Lung Association to study interactions between the nervous and immune systems in regulating influenza A infection and viral pneumonia.

"Influenza A virus, or flu virus, continues to be a significant public health threat with pandemic potential," Baral said. "While annual vaccinations and antiviral drugs exist for influenza, they fail to provide absolute protection. A novel, highly efficacious host-based targeted therapy is an alternative approach."

Baral's project will investigate how neurons in the sympathetic nervous system — the component of the nervous system involved in the body's fight-or-flight response — provide signaling to immune cells that regulate lung inflammation, airway barrier permeability and infection outcomes during viral pneumonia.

"Our respiratory system is densely innervated with different neurons that recognize and warn us of environmental dangers, including respiratory pathogens," Baral said. "Our research group has identified specific neurons that help the immune system both recognize and attack such pathogens."

Methods that directly target the nervous system or associated molecular receptors could lay a foundation for the development of alternative therapy strategies to treat pneumonia.

The American Lung Association is a leading organization dedicated to research, education and advocacy on the prevention of lung disease and the promotion of lung health.