Amberson Lecturer Will Highlight the Journey in Pursuit of Curing Human Pulmonary Fibrosis


Scientists seeking a better understanding of the cosmos turned their attention to the night sky, first with the naked eye, and then with increasingly powerful telescopic tools. This year’s J. Burns Amberson Lecture honoree, Naftali Kaminski, MD, ATSF, has followed a similar trajectory in his 20-year quest to further the understanding of disease in the human lung.

Naftali Kaminski, MD, ATSF
Naftali Kaminski, MD, ATSF

“My career moved with the increased resolution in our ability to profile the human lung in pulmonary fibrosis,” said Dr. Kaminski, the Boehringer-Ingelheim Endowed Professor of Internal Medicine and chief of pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine at Yale School of Medicine. “And now I’m using the Hubble telescope, or a more advanced version of that.”

He will deliver the Amberson Lecture, Charting a Road Map to Curing Human Pulmonary Fibrosis, during the ATS 2022 Awards Ceremony, 4-5 p.m. PT on Sunday, May 15, in Hall E (North Building, Exhibition Level) of the Moscone Center. Recipients of the Edward Livingston Trudeau Medal and the Distinguished Achievement Award will also be recognized.

Dr. Kaminski will outline how, as a researcher, he navigated the path from early insights into molecular and gene networks in pulmonary fibrosis to today’s cutting-edge analysis of what happens at a cellular level.

As a pioneer of the application of high throughput profiling technologies and systems biology approaches to human lung diseases, Dr. Kaminski discovered novel and reproducible outcome-predictive peripheral blood biomarkers and novel mechanisms in pulmonary fibrosis. These included roles for microRNAs, matrix metalloproteinases in human pulmonary fibrosis, the potential role of thyroid hormone mimetics as potential antifibrotic agents through their effects on mitochondrial function, and most recently, the extensive cellular changes in the IPF lung, including the description of aberrant basaloid cells.

Beyond publishing results from his lab, Dr. Kaminski is committed to sharing the results publicly with the release of multiple lung disease cell atlases, including the largest single-cell RNA sequencing atlas of the human idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis lung, an extensive scRNAseq atlas of normal lung endothelial cells, the COPD cell atlas, and a multiomic single-cell analysis of the immune response to progressive COVID-19.

“Now that we have a much better, deeper understanding of what happens to every single cell in the human IPF lung, and hopefully other fibrotic lung diseases, we can start designing specific interventions. Maybe we can actually fix it, not just slow it down,” Dr. Kaminski said. “First you create the atlas, and then you draw the map for how you fix the disease.”

Amid the excitement of discovery in translational and biomedical research, Dr. Kaminski said the impact on human life is the primary guidepost for investigators. And despite the instrumental role animal models have played in advancing the understanding of lung development, he has always sought to ground his work in human models.

“The more I looked at the human pulmonary fibrosis lung, it has this unique architecture and pathological changes that we probably cannot replicate in animal models, therefore I always felt we should study the human lung, generate our hypothesis using human lungs, and then do the follow-up work with animal models of disease, or with subculture, or any other ex vivo models,” he said. “Generating our hypothesis about human disease from animal models of disease never made sense to me.”

Dr. Kaminski’s patient-first philosophy was reinforced during his training with Dean Sheppard, MD, at the University of California, San Francisco.

“It was a very rigorous bench research, basic science lab, but the focus was always on helping humans using every tool that we had,” Dr. Kaminski said. “For me, it was clear, the moment I had the opportunity, I was going to profile a human lung, and that’s what we did.”

His lab has been consistently funded by the National Institutes of Health since 2003, and he has led large studies such as the NHLBI’s Lung Genomic Research Consortium, the Genomic Research in Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency and Sarcoidosis (GRADS) consortium, and a Center for Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics (CADET II). Currently he is the primary investigator of the Pulmonary Fibrosis Connectome project, the Normal Lung Aging Cell Atlas. He is also director of the Yale NHLBI T32-funded training program in Translational Lung Biology and Pathobiology, as well as other grants.

Born and raised in Haifa, Israel, Dr. Kaminski received his medical degree at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem, Israel; completed his residency in Internal Medicine at Hadassah Mount Scopus University Hospital, Jerusalem; and completed a fellowship in pulmonary medicine at Sheba Medical Center, Tel-Hashomer, Israel.

He received basic science training at the Lung Biology Center at UCSF. After his fellowship in 2000, Dr. Kaminski was appointed the head of functional genomics at Sheba Medical Center before being recruited to be the founding director of the Simmons Center at the University of Pittsburgh in 2002.

Dr. Kaminski has authored more than 330 research papers, review articles, and book chapters, and has been an invited speaker at national and international conferences.

His awards include the Coalition for Pulmonary Fibrosis Marvin Schwarz Award for Pulmonary Fibrosis, the University of Pittsburgh Innovator Award, the American Thoracic Society Recognition of Scientific Achievements, the Helmholtz Institute International Fellow Award, the European Respiratory Society Gold Medal for Interstitial Lung Disease, the RCMB Andy Tager Excellence in Mentoring Award, and the Yale Blavatnik Innovation Award.

Dr. Kaminski has been a highly engaged and respected member of the ATS for more than two decades. He has served on several ATS committees, including the Program Committee, the Nominating Committee, and as chair of the Assembly of Respiratory, Cell and Molecular Biology. He has also served on the Basic Science Core Review, Finance, Planning and Evaluation committees, and the ATS Respiratory Health Award Committee. Dr. Kaminski was among the team that created the Association of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Division Chiefs. In this capacity, he worked tirelessly on gender equality initiatives, and on developing the division chief tool box. This work led to the Gender Equality summit and the subsequent “Addressing Gender Inequality in our disciplines” report, two publications on leadership development for pulmonary and critical care physicians, and the Physician Scientists Workshop at ATS 2019. 

During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, recognizing the lack of evidence and guidelines, Dr. Kaminski organized the weekly Division Directors forums, which encouraged sharing of information, experience, and best practices among pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine divisions across the country.

He is passionate about training the next generation of researchers — he has mentored more than 40 postdoctoral trainees, some holding prominent positions as academic and industry researchers, and pulmonary division chiefs.

The joy of having respiratory researchers, clinicians, and educators from throughout the ATS community together again for an in-person conference after three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic makes being the 2022 Amberson lecturer even more meaningful for Dr. Kaminski.

“For me, the most exciting thing — why I love the ATS — is being part of this amazing community of people dedicated to research and to taking care of patients with lung disease. All of it is for the benefit of our patients,” he said. “All of our discoveries and achievements, all the successes in my career, came through the generosity, dedication, and collaboration of so many members of our ATS community — researchers, clinicians, patients and patient advocates, and staff members. It is great to see them all after three years, and also in my talk, have the opportunity to thank them.”

Named for James Burns Amberson, an international authority on chest disease and tuberculosis, the Amberson Lecture recognizes major international lifetime contributions to clinical or basic research that have advanced the fundamental understanding of basic, translational, or clinical approaches to respiratory disease, critical illness, or sleep disorders.

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