Nia Earns NIH Award for Ground-Breaking Lung Research Technology

Hadi Nia (BME, MSE)

Assistant Professor Hadi Nia (BME, MSE) has earned the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s New Innovator Award. Granting him nearly $2.5 million, the award will empower Nia to pursue novel models and tools to image the lung in real time and at cellular resolution. He will probe the links between the physics, biology, and immunity of the lung, in both sick and healthy specimens.

A complex vital organ, the lung faces risks from air-borne pathogens and pollutants as well as cancer, making it imperative that we learn more about the dynamics of the origin and progression of lung disease. But current methods for studying the lung offer a limited picture.

To bring new clarity to pulmonary research, Nia has developed and is refining a technology he calls LungEx. It is a system for ex vivo studies in which a ventilator and perfusion pump keep the lung functioning, while a transparent container Nia calls the “crystal ribcage” allows for observation of the organ’s workings.

This innovation promises to unlock insights into the real-time dynamics of respiration and circulation, the trafficking of immune and cancer cells, the transmission of air-borne pathogens and the immune system’s response. The new understanding of the lung that should result will have implications for drug development and delivery, lung transplantation, and even aging.

“These high-risk, high-reward mechanisms are truly empowering for our lab, as they allow us to ask bold questions without worrying too much about funding,” says Nia. “With our promising preliminary data in the context of primary and metastatic lung cancer, as well as pneumonia, our team is very excited about the transformative potentials of our proposed technology.”

Nia’s is one of 103 High-Risk, High-Reward research grants the NIH has awarded this year for early-stage investigators who have proposed innovative, high-impact ideas.

“The science advanced by these researchers is poised to blaze new paths of discovery in human health,” says Lawrence A. Tabak, acting director of NIH. “This unique cohort of scientists will transform what is known in the biological and behavioral world.”

Nia’s collaborators on the project include Professor Bela Suki (BME), who sparked his interest in the lung, as well as Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine faculty Giovanni Ligresti, Katrina Traber, Sarah Mazzilli, and Joseph Mizgerd, who have provided expertise on pulmonary diseases. Nia also credits the Neurophotonics Center for providing imaging equipment and expertise.

Nia has received multiple awards for his research, including Beckman Young Investigator and NIBIB Trailblazer awards. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Sharif University of Technology in Iran and his doctoral degree from MIT.