Post-doctoral and Graduate Student Positions are Available Immediately!

Physical Properties of Airway Surface Layer of Lung

The project focuses on consequences of recent major discovery in our lab related to the molecular structure and function of the airway surface of one of the most important mammalian organs – the lung. We found that this airway surface is not lined by a liquid lubricant layer, as traditionally thought, but is covered by a dense brush of long glycoconjugates (such as membrane-spanning mucins). Our preliminary data demonstrate that this brush is essential for maintaining the healthy state of the lung by serving a dual protective role. The goal of the project is to systematically study physical properties of this important airway surface layer of human bronchial epithelial cell cultures.

We are looking for well-qualified post-doctoral researchers and highly self-motivated graduate students to join us in this exciting scientific endeavor. Specific projects and related expertise we are looking for include

  1. Osmotic pressure measurements of mucus on the top of cell cultures;
  2. Confocal microscopy measurements of penetration of labeled probes (fractionated dextran and nano-particles) into extracellular matrix;
  3. Measurement of adhesion (fracture toughness) and cohesion of mucus to cells and of friction between mucus and cells;
  4. Characterization of mucins by polymer physics techniques (scattering, rheology, gel permeation chromatography, etc.).

Our findings are expected to represent a revolutionary change in understanding of a major innate defense system; i.e., the mucus clearance system, by replacing an erroneous paradigm with one that is quantitative and predictive for normal function. Further, our novel approach to this major pulmonary defense mechanism will provide a unifying description of pathogenesis of several classes of major human lung diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cystic fibrosis, and suggests novel treatment directions. We anticipate that our discovery will be generalized to mucus moving over other “wet” mucosal surfaces, including the eye, gastrointestinal tract, and reproductive tract.

Please contact Prof. Michael Rubinstein at mr[at]unc[dot]edu if you are interested in the positions.

For more:
A Periciliary Brush Promotes the Lung Health by Separating the Mucus Layer from Airway Epithelia. by Brian Button*, Li-Heng Cai*, Camille Ehre, Mehmet Kesimer, David B. Hill, John K. Sheehan, Richard C. Boucher, and Michael Rubinstein, Science 337, 937-941 (2012). (*equal contribution) Featured by Science Cover; Perspective, Editorial Comments, Media Reports.