Department's Basic Pulmonary Research

The department’s basic pulmonary research primarily focuses on understanding the cellular and molecular basis of lung disease in adulthood that has its origins in the fetus and newborns using preclinical models of acute and chronic lung diseases, as well as clinical samples. 

Dr. J. Usha Raj’s research interests are in the area of Developmental Pulmonary Vascular Biology and Pulmonary Hypertension. Her lab is studying the normal physiological mechanisms that control the pulmonary circulation in the fetus and newborn. She is also studying the mechanisms of Pulmonary Hypertension both in the developing and adult lung. Her laboratory is currently involved in the followings areas of investigation:

  1. Mechanisms by which cGMP-dependent protein kinase activity undergoes post-translational modification in hypoxia and becomes inactive, in a reversible manner, using fetal and newborn lamb models.
  2. Investigating the role of the miRNA cluster 17~92 in the pathogenesis of pulmonary hypertension in the adults using genetic models and human tissues.
  3. The study of epigenetic phenomenon induced by perinatal hypoxia that predispose to the development of pulmonary hypertension in adult life using a mouse model.

All her studies are related to the biology of the smooth muscle cell in the pulmonary vasculature, particularly the factors that regulate vasomotor tone as well as cell proliferation and phenotype maintenance.


Dr. Reddy’s research focuses on Host-Defense Response during Acute Lung Injury and Repair, especially the role of redox imbalance in the dysregulated inflammatory response and abnormal resolution of lung inflammation and injury in neonates and adults. His laboratory found that disruption of the crucial oxidative stress modifier, the Nrf2 transcription factor, impairs the resolution of hyperoxic lung injury, leading to defective tissue repair and persistent inflammation as well as promoting susceptibility to bacterial infection. He also studies the functions of AP-1 (c-Jun and Fra-1) signaling in resolving lung inflammation and injury, and in modulating emphysema and cancer. His ongoing research focus on:

  1. Mechanisms of regulation and functions of both inflammatory and lung cell type specific Nrf2-mediated redox signaling during lung injury and repair and infection using conditional knockout mouse models and primary cultures.
  2. Understanding the interplay between Nrf2 and Fra-1/AP-1 transcription factor in the modulation of abnormal vascular and epithelial repair after tissue injury using genetic and knockdown approaches in vivo and in vitro.
  3. Studying the regulation and functions of Jun/Fra-1 signaling in cigarette smoke-induced emphysema and lung cancer.

All his studies are to explore whether targeting of Nrf2 and AP-1 signaling pharmacologically will provide a promising approach to intervene and improve the outcomes of acute lung injury and lung pathogenesis in neonates and adults and using preclinical models and clinical samples ex-vivo.


Dr. Zhou is studying the roles of hypoxia signaling in the lung diseases. His lab is studying the molecular mechanisms controlling the behavior of interstitial lung fibroblasts and pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells and their implication in the pathogenesis of pulmonary fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension. His lab is actively pursuing the following area of research:

  1. The role of the von Hippel Lindau (VHL) protein in pulmonary fibrosis. VHL is a component of E3 ligase, which regulates HIF signaling, a key element in cellular adaptation to hypoxia. His laboratory found that expression of VHL is elevated in fibrotic tissues and loss of VHL prevents fibroblast proliferation and development of fibrosis in an experimental mouse model. His laboratory is particularly interested in how VHL regulates cell matrix proteins in a HIF independent pathway to regulate lung fibroblast proliferation, migration and differentiation.
  2. Functions of Adenosine Monophosphate Protein Kinase (AMPK) in pulmonary artery smooth muscle cell survival and proliferation during the development of pulmonary hypertension. Dr. Zhou’s laboratory has shown that AMPK is activated in pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells of patients with pulmonary hypertension and experimental hypertensive mice. They also found that inhibition of AMPK causes the death of pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells when exposed to hypoxia. His research is focusing on elucidating the molecular mechanisms underlying AMPK-mediated cell survival.

He is also exploring to target these two proteins to develop novel approaches for the treatment of patients with pulmonary fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension. 


Dr. Harijith’s research interests are in the area of Acute Lung Injury (ALI) and Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia (BPD). He is studying the role of Sphingolipid signaling in hyperoxia-induced disruption of lung development, under the mentorship by Dr. Viswanathan Natarajan. He is currently involved in the followings areas of investigation using cell systems and genetic models:

  1. Mechanisms by which Sphingosine Kinase signaling affects generation of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). 
  2. Mechanisms by which ROS could affect formation of alveoli in BPD.
  3. The study of NADPH oxidases functions and their relationship with Sphingolipid signaling pathways in mediating ROS-induced lung injury and BPD.

His goal is to understand the pathogenic mechanisms of BPD and to develop novel approaches to mitigate the chronic lung disease.


Faculty Research


J. Usha Raj, MD

Dr. J. Usha Raj came from the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in 2008 to head the Department of Pediatrics. Today she is the Head of the Children’s Hospital of the University of Illinois which became a member of NACHRI in 2010. She has been a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics since 1981, a member of the Society for Pediatric Research since 1988 and a member of the American Pediatric Society since 1996. She was elected to the American Society for Clinical Investigation in 1994. She is a member of many scientific organizations and is very active in the American Physiological Society and the America Thoracic Society. She served as a regular member on the National institutes of Health, Study Section LBPA and RIBT and as Chairman of a Special Study Section for the NIH.

Her research interests have been in Developmental Pulmonary Vascular Biology and her laboratory has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health for over 28 years. As head of the Developmental Pulmonary Biology Research Group at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Dr. Raj is studying the mechanisms that control the pulmonary circulation in the fetus and newborn, and is trying to understand why some babies develop problems related to the lung blood vessels while others do not.

Her work has established and defined the very important role of pulmonary veins in regulation of microvascular pressures, fluid filtration and blood flow in the fetal and neonatal lungs. Another important contribution has been the discovery of an important role for platelet activating factor in the normal physiological regulation of pulmonary vasomotor tone in the developing lung. The contribution of this vasoactive compound and growth factor in the pathogenesis of chronic hypoxia-induced pulmonary hypertension is being currently studied. Her laboratory has identified the very important role of cGMP dependent protein kinase and its mechanisms of action on the pulmonary vasculature during the transition from fetal to neonatal life. And more recently, her group has identified a unique role for reactive species in protein modification and vascular function in the transition from fetal to neonatal pulmonary circulation.

She is also involved in fellow education and is very interested in increasing the number of pediatricians in the academic research track. She has trained over 25 fellows, several of whom are pursuing academic careers. She welcomes students, residents and fellows into her laboratory.


Sekhar P. Reddy, PhD

Dr. Sekhar Reddy's research focuses on deciphering the mechanisms underlying the development and progression of acute and chronic lung diseases in neonates and adults. His team uses preclinical models to identifying effector pathways that either promote or deregulate tissue repair after mechanical- and oxidant-induced lung injury. His research also focuses on elucidating the mechanisms underlying enhanced susceptibility of people with lung disorders to injury from exposure to infectious or environmental agents.  

Benjamin W. Van Voorhees, MD, MPH

Dr. Benjamin Van Voorhees's research work is focused on the development and evaluation of primary care-technology-based depression prevention interventions for adolescents. His program has five core areas: (1) intervention development, (2) clinical epidemiology, (3) health services and attitudinal research, (4) community based clinical trials of primary care/Internet-based interventions and (5) reduction of health disparities through primary care based interventions.  


Neelima Chauhan PhD

Dr. Chauhan's research interests are aimed at promoting repair of degenerated neurons under pathological conditions, Alzheimer's disease and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in particular, by interventional strategies. Specifically, She is interested in evaluating intracerebroventricular passive immunization with anti-A antibodies for clearing pre-existing plaque-load in Alzheimer's transgenic animal models. Further, her interest is in preventing de novo plaque formation by antisense strategies, NGF-receptor activation and dietary interventions with statins and aged garlic extract in combination to passive immunization in Alzheimer's transgenic animal models. And also in understanding the mechanisms underlying TBI pathogenesis as well as interested in evaluating clinical/translational efficacy of statins and Phosphodiesterase inhibitors in TBI models.

Eunice John, MD

Dr. John's research is focused on :
1. Long term changes in renal function after receiving living related small bowel transplant in pediatric patients.
2. Effect of sepsis on renal function in newborn piglet during ontogeny
3. Correction of anemia in Pediatric ESRD Patients with aranesp given once in 2 weeks in children (funded by Amgen)
4. Vitamin D observational studies in ESRD Pediatric peritoneal dialysis patients (funded by Abbott)
5. Proteonomics in obstructive uropathy in children (funded by application in progress)
6. Chronic kidney disease – progression of renal failure (NIH funded)


Guofei Zhou, PhD

Dr. Zhou's laboratory investigates the contribution of hypoxia-mediated epithelial-mesenchymal transition in lung cancer progression. Another research interest of Dr. Zhou is the role of von Hippel Lindau protein in pulmonary fibrosis.

Lucy Park, MD

Dr. Lucy Park's research is focused on :
1. Epidemiologic study of RSV associated respiratory illness in near term infants, born at 32-35 weeks gestational age, (Sponsor MedImmune, Inc.)
2. Family Backpack Program: A primary care based randomized control trial to improve medical adherence in children with asthma (collaborators, Dr. Fiese, Department of psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign)
3. Pediatric asthma management program: family education and medical management

Mary Lou Schmidt, MD

Dr. Schmidt's research is focused on :
1. Children's Oncology Group Neuroblastoma Clinical Trials.
2. Health-related quality of life in Survivors of Neuroblastoma (supported by the American Cancer Society).
3. Medical ethics including end-of-life issues.

Kenneth Rich, MD

Perinatal HIV-1 infection natural history; pediatric and perinatal HIV-1 treatment and prevention studies; immune function in pregnant women HIV-1 infected and uninfected women.

Christiane Stahl, MD

1. Adolescent obesity and its complications, especially Type 2 diabetes and menstrual disorders.
2. STIs in chronically mentally ill youth.
3. Under development: contraceptive methods for adolescents with chronic disease (especially DMPA for teens with sickle cell anemia); office-based fitness assessment, and physical activity counseling for teens.