Current Members

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Irina Petrache, MD.
Principle investigator
Irina is the Chief of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine and pulmonary specialist who studies COPD with a particular focus on understanding the development of cigarette induced emphysema and developing new therapies and markers for the disease.


Junior Faculty

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Kelly Schweitzer, PhD.
Assistant Professor of Pulmonology
My scientific interests include the regulation of cigarette smoke and nicotine – induced lung injury. In particular, we investigate the underlying mechanisms responsible for nicotine- and e-cigarette vapor- induced injury both in vitro and in vivo. Recently, we have begun to study the relationship between the integrin-tetraspanin signaling axis and membrane dynamics due to fluctuations in glycosphingolipids within the plasma membrane. The disruption of these complexes at the membrane may lead to an increased risk of developing COPD.

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Karina Serban, MD.
Assistant Professor of Pulmonology
My research focus is aimed at understanding the mechanisms by which alpha-1 antitrypsin a major circulating anti-inflammatory protein affects the inflammatory and innate immune responses in the lungs of individuals with COPD.
We use cell culture models, in vivo rodent model of cigarette smoke induced COPD, and translational studies on primary cells isolated from human subjects to investigate the alpha-1 antitrypsin role on monocyte transendothelial migration, macrophages cell surface receptors, cytokine secretion, and the engulfment of apoptotic cells, endothelial cell microvesicles, and pathogens. We have now expanded these studies to the role of complement system activation and the potential additive effect of mannose binding lectin to alpha-1 antitrypsin in the resolution of lung inflammation.

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Kengo Koike, MD/PhD.
Postdoctoral Fellowship Recipient (Banyu Life Science)
Research Grant (American Lung Association)
Kengo Koike is a pulmonologist from Japan who is interested in COPD pathogenesis. He is passionate about understanding the role of glycosphingolipids in COPD.


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April Scruggs, PhD.
Post Doc Fellow
April Scruggs is a postdoc who is interested in COPD. She received her PhD at the University of South Alabama where she worked at the Center of Lung Biology. She is passionate about understanding the role of sphingolipids in COPD.

Graduate Students

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Danting Cao
Bachelor of Medicine (M.D. equivalent).
G3, (UC Denver Anshutz), Pharmacology PhD Candidate
Supported by T32 Training Grant (UC Colorado)
Predoctoral Fellowship Recipient (AHA)
Danting Cao is interested in how cigarette smoke damages the vasculature leading to cardiovascular disease. She is studying the effect of cigarette smoke on microRNA expression in endothelial cells as well as their extracellular vesicles.


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Matthew Justice
MS Physics, MS Biochemistry.
G3, Biochem PhD Candidate
F31 Predoctoral Fellowship Recipient (NHLBI/NIH)
Previously supported by Pulmonary T32 Training Grant (IUSM)
Matthew Justice is a sphingolipid researcher currently investigating acute mechanisms that lead to the chronic disease emphysema.

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Kevin Ni
G3, MSTP, Biochem PhD Candidate
F30 Predoctoral Fellowship Recipient (NHLBI/NIH)
Previously supported by Pulmonary T32 Training Grant (IUSM)
Kevin is interested in extending the use of Adipose derived stem Cells (ASCs) to treating chronic lung inflammation.

Staff Researchers

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Andrew Mikosz
Senior Research Associate
Andrew Mikosz works closely with Dr. Karina Serban on understanding the protective role of A1AT during lung inflammation.

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Erica Beatman
Senior Research Associate
Erica is investigating how to ameliorate chronic lung damage induced by cigarette smoke exposure by targeting specific lipids and enzymes associated with protection against the development of emphysema.


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Amar Gill
Sophomore, BS/MD Candidate (UC Denver)
Amar works closely with Kevin on the role of a hyaluronan modifying protein during acute lung inflammation.

Rotation Students

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Charles Kim
Internal Medicine Resident (UC Denver SOM)
I am currently an internal medicine resident getting ready to apply to a pulmonary/critical care residency. I am interested in how indoor air pollution and HIV interact to cause or exacerbate pulmonary disease.


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