Published: 24-09-2021 10:00 | Updated: 19-11-2021 12:53

"At the moment we focus on young people with post-COVID"

Portrait of Åsa Wheelock.
Åsa Wheelock. Photo: Jeroen Wolfers

Meet Åsa Wheelock, research group leader at the division of respiratory medicine, department of medicine, Solna.

Three questions to Åsa Wheelock:

Please, tell us about your research team.

The pulmonomics research group is an interdisciplinary team consisting of pre-clinical researchers performing primarily wet-lab work, bioinformaticians and statisticians that consider their computers as their laboratory, as well as clinical staff.

Our research interests can be broadly defined as developing a respiratory systems medicine platform to characterize molecular sub-phenotypes of chronic inflammatory lung diseases. We focus equal efforts on translational studies to investigate specific sub-groups of COPD, asthma, and as of recent also long-COVID – as well as on innovation & methodology development in protein detection, statistics and data integration.

What obstacles do you wish to resolve?

Both asthma and COPD are umbrella diagnoses that each represent a range of etiologies. The clinical characteristics we use today to diagnose these diseases are rather blunt tools, and are not sufficient to allow sub-phenotyping of patients into relevant sub-groups. As a complement, we are performing molecular screening at many molecular levels (mRNA, miRNA, proteomes, metabolomes) from many anatomical locations in the lung (airway epithelium, resident immune cells, airway exudates, extracellular vesicles), which we then integrate with network models to get a better statistical power to identify molecularly distinct subgroups.

What research are you working on now?

Right now we are launching a home-monitoring study of patients with post-acute covid syndrome (PACS), sometimes referred to as post-COVID.

Since the inception of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, focus has been placed on reducing the mortality rate of the acute, severe form of COVID-19. However, a much larger group of severely affected individuals has emerged, with late onset persistent disease. This group constitute a completely different phenotype of the disease, from a different demographic group: While those requiring hospital care are largely elderly or multi-morbid individuals, the majority of post-COVID patients are formerly young, healthy individuals who due to mild initial symptoms generally did not seek hospital care.

Our home monitoring system facilitates continuous follow-up. Monitoring of daily fluctuations in symptoms, activity and lung function will help identify sub-groups of the disease, with specific emphasis on those with lung involvement. Molecular biomarkers will be evaluated using our systems medicine workflow in lung samples collected with bronchoscopy, and from particles in exhaled air (PEx). The fully developed system will also be used to evaluate various interventions.