Department of Medicine

Department of Medicine

  Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine




HIV Lung Research Center

Program Description

Despite availability of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART)[1], pulmonary disease remains a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in HIV-infected patients, and some pulmonary conditions may actually be increasing in persons with HIV.  The University of Pittsburgh HIV Lung Research Center (HLRC) was established in 2010 to increase the scientific understanding of HIV-associated lung diseases including infectious and non-infectious complications in order to develop novel therapeutic and preventive approaches to decreasing the burden of lung disease in this population.   The University of Pittsburgh is the site of significant research in HIV-associated lung disease with funded investigators performing studies in human populations and non-human primate models investigating infectious and non-infectious lung complications of HIV. The HLRC provides a forum for exchange and interactions between  MD and PhD scientists in different disciplines including pulmonary, immunology, and infectious diseases. The HLRC is led by Alison Morris, MD, MS and Karen Norris, PhD.

Research Team

Alison Morris, MD, MS, Associate Professor of Medicine and Immunology conducts translational research in HIV-associated pulmonary disease with a focus on epidemiology and causes of HIV-associated COPD.  She is a Primary Investigator in the NHLBI-sponsored, “Lung HIV,” a consortium of 8 clinical centers investigating HIV-associated pulmonary disease, and she serves on the Lung HIV steering committee and chairs the CT scan committee.   She is also the PI of an NHLBI R01 to investigate COPD in HIV and the role of pulmonary infections such as Pneumocystis colonization in HIV-associated COPD as well as an NHLBI U01 investigating the role of the microbiome in HIV-associated lung diseases.  Dr. Morris’ key scientific discoveries include identifying the association of Pneumocystis colonization and COPD in both HIV-infected and HIV-uninfected subjects, determining outcome and epidemiology of Pneumocystis pneumonia, and documenting a relationship between use of antiretroviral therapy and airway obstruction.

CT scan from 44 yo HIV-infected female
on antiretroviral therapy


CT scan of 54y/o HIV-infected man

Karen Norris, PhD, Professor of Immunology conducts research in immunology of infectious diseases with emphasis on pulmonary complications of HIV.  Her research is currently focused on simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) and SIV-HIV chimeric (SHIV) infection of non-human primates.  She was the first to establish and characterize a model of Pneumocystis pneumonia in the SIV model.  In addition, her laboratory was the first to develop a non-human primate model of COPD, and they have established a link between SIV infection, Pneumocystis colonization and the development of COPD.  Additional studies are focused on a non-human primate model of HIV-related pulmonary arterial hypertension.  Dr. Norris has mentored numerous research and clinical fellows, PhD students and medical student research scholars.  Her SIV-related work is currently supported by 2 NHLBI RO1 grants and she is a Co-PI on an SIG to develop PET-CT imaging in the primate model.

Clinical Research

Several clinical research studies are ongoing that investigate epidemiology and pathogenesis of HIV-associated chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pulmonary arterial hypertension and asthma, the role of various infections and associated host response in HIV-associated lung disease, and the role of antiretroviral therapy in lung disease.  A specimen bank of blood, sputum, and bronchoalveolar lavage with corresponding clinical and physiologic (pulmonary function testing, chest computed-tomography, and echocardiograms) located in Dr. Morris’ laboratory and would be available for collaborative studies.

Basic Research

Center scientists perform basic research on multiple aspects of HIV-associated lung diseases including tuberculosis, Pneumocystis infection and colonization, host immune response, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and pulmonary arterial hypertension. Research is conducted using cell lines, rodent models, and non-human primate models.  Molecular, immunologic, physiologic, radiologic and genetic studies are performed as part of these investigations.