Chantal Donovan answers the holy grail


14 Apr 2016

Chantal Donovan


Research by Chantal Donovan from the Priority Research Centre for Healthy Lungs at Newcastle University and colleagues has attracted a lot of attention in the press this week. To find out what all the excitement is about we caught up with Chantal to see how far the research team has come in their search for novel disease targets in COPD, asthma and pulmonary fibrosis.

What’s the issue your research is trying to solve?

Our research is looking for novel disease targets and to develop new therapies for the treatment of COPD (aka emphysema), asthma and pulmonary fibrosis.

What have you discovered so far?

We (Ross Vlahos, RMIT, Lung Health Research Centre, Univ. Melb; Jane Bourke, Monash Univ.) have discovered a down-regulation of a cellular receptor (the ryanodine receptor), which is crucial in the regulation of airway function. This occurs by controlling calcium homeostasis in airway smooth muscle following cigarette smoke exposure that may provide a novel therapeutic target for cigarette smoke-induced disease.

In addition, we have discovered impaired responses to treatment with bronchodilators in a mouse model of cigarette smoke and influenza A virus infection in small airways in lungs (precision-cut lung slices), directly mimicking patients with acute exacerbations of COPD and providing a platform to study novel therapies.

What excites you most about your findings?

The potential of these novel mouse models and mouse models from Phil Hansbro, Univ. of Newcastle to directly recapitulate key features of human disease provides us with unique opportunities to elucidate the underlying mechanisms and identify new targets.

What’s been your biggest hurdle?

Seed funding to develop new projects.

How far is your work from impacting patient care?

Depending on the target of discoveries >10 years, which is typical for the development of new therapies for any disease.

If you could discover one thing in your research, what would it be? (e.g. what’s your holy grail?)

A drug to treat patients who do not respond to current therapy

What does your perfect day look like?

Morning run, coffee and a good breakfast, successful day of lab experiments and dinner/drinks with friends

If you weren’t a respiratory scientist what would you be?

A respiratory clinician

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