Postdoc Researches New Treatment Targets for Pulmonary Disease

An East Carolina University researcher is investigating new ways to treat a disease that disproportionately affects African Americans and women in the Southeast.

Eman Soliman, a postdoctoral scholar in the department of internal medicine at the Brody School of Medicine, is investigating new treatment options for sarcoidosis.

Sarcoidosis is a chronic inflammatory disease predominately affecting the lungs and the thoracic lymph nodes. The disease typically presents symptoms of dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and enlarged lymph nodes. It is diagnosed by the formation of abnormal masses, known as granulomas, in the lung. It’s estimated that up to four in 10,000 people have the disease, most often occurring in female and African-American communities.

East Carolina University postdoctoral scholar Eman Soliman, left, was recently recognized for her research at the 2019 Visiting Pulmonary Scholar Annual Poster Session and Symposium in Chapel Hill. Soliman and her mentor, Mary Jane Thomassen, are investigating new ways to treat the pulmonary disease sarcoidosis. (Photo by Ethan Carey)

Soliman, who’s mentored by Mary Jane Thomassen in the division of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine, said her work examines the mechanism of granuloma formation in the lung of patients diagnosed with sarcoidosis.

Current sarcoidosis treatments focus on reducing inflammation by administering corticosteroids and other drugs to temper the immune system’s response, reducing inflammation. However, Soliman’s research has shown that the metabolism of lipids — organic compounds that play a function in cell development — in immune cells of the lung is key in the development of granulomas that are associated with the disease.

“I’ve always been interested in figuring out how systems work,” Soliman said. “So, in order to find better treatment, we wanted to look at how granulomas form and not just treat the symptoms of sarcoidosis. We’re investigating the role of lipid metabolism in immune cells in creating granulomas. We hope that by understanding this process, we can develop new treatments that decrease granuloma development and reduce the overall severity of the disease.”

Soliman’s work was recognized at the 2019 Visiting Pulmonary Scholar Annual Poster Session and Symposium hosted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Soliman placed first in the postdoctoral poster category at the regional meeting against researchers from ECU, UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University and N.C. State University

Soliman said she believes it’s important to share research with others and create strong mentorship bonds.

“Sharing your research allows you to test your ideas and get new ideas from others,” she said. “However, I wouldn’t be able to be inquisitive in research and share my work if it wasn’t for my mentors. The guidance of my current mentor, Dr. Thomassen, and my previous mentor, Dr. Rukiyah Van Dross-Anderson, in the department of pharmacology and toxicology has played vital roles in my research. I appreciate the connections they’ve made with me and others in their labs.”

Learn more about Soliman’s work online.

This story was written with the assistance of REDE intern Ethan Carey.