PERF 2020 Annual Report

PERF 2020 annual report

2020 has been quite a year! We very much hope that you are weathering the pandemic well and are happy and healthy. To those who have suffered losses, we send our sympathy and hope for better days. We hope that our progress report will bring a bit of light into your day. PERF, the Pulmonary Education and Research Foundation, has a lot to report!

First of all, 2020 is the year we got reinforcements! Some of us have been PERF denizens for a long time. Mary Burns and Alvin Grancell, our founders, for 36 years. Pete Pettler and Brian Tiep for almost that long. I’ve served as President for 27 years (time goes fast when you’re having fun!). We’re pleased, though, to report four additions to our Board of Directors:

  • Robert Chang is a newly retired pulmonary physician. More than just any pulmonary physician, Dr. Chang founded the number one pulmonology group in this part of Los Angeles. Moreover, for several decades he has served as Medical Director of the Little Company of Mary pulmonary rehabilitation program. Quite a resume!
  • Jackie Tosolini is a respiratory care practitioner who has more than 30 years’ experience as a pulmonary rehabilitation practitioner in the Little Company of Mary program. She was trained by Mary Burns; how could she not be excellent?
  • We have two new members bringing young blood to our group. Dr. Asghar Abbasi is a Ph.D. scientist who has studied molecular exercise immunology. He’s pursuing a project designed to determine why COPD patients get an immune boost from rehabilitation programs. He comes to us from Iran by way of Germany. Asghar received a prestigious three-year post-doctoral fellowship award from California’s Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program.
  • Our other young Board member is Dr. Nick Tiller, a Ph.D. scientist with expertise in exercise science. He hails from England. Nick is an ultra-marathon runner and is a post-doctoral fellow with our group. Nick recently received a prestigious three-year fellowship award from California’s Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program.


While I’m discussing PERF Board members, I need to mention that Jean Hughes, who has been PERF Treasurer almost from the beginning, announced her retirement from active Board membership. By unanimous vote, she was elected to Emeritus status, as you can see on our letterhead.

Now to what we’ve accomplished in 2020. As implied in the name of our Foundation, we’ve been working hard both on research and on education…both focused on benefitting people suffering from chronic lung disease.

Research Accomplishments

One of our flagship projects of the Rehabilitation Clinical Trials Center, the COPDGene study, hardly missed a beat when the laboratory was forced to close to in-center visits in March because of the pandemic. We recruited 760 patients to this study at our site 10 years ago and have followed their progress since then. We switched to “virtual” visits (mostly by phone) and have “seen” over 100 patients over the intervening months. The laboratory is in the process of (cautiously) re-opening. Nicely, all of our coordinators have stayed employed – and busy! The COPDGene study is approaching 500 scientific publications, an amazing record of productivity.

Dr. Harry Rossiter recently received the good news that his application for a grant from the National Institutes of Health had been funded. The Muscle Health Study is a spinoff from the COPDGene study. About 250 participants have undergone a test of leg muscle function and also had their level of everyday activity measured. These data are helping us to open up a whole new area of research, letting us know why COPD patients have poorly functioning muscles: is it simply a lack of activity, or do other COPD-associated factors (including genetics) play a role?

Dr. Bill Stringer has his plate full, coping with the flood of patients admitted to the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center suffering from the consequences of COVID-19 infection. But he’s found time to participate in a study of a drug that is designed to abort the progress of COVID-19 infection before it becomes too serious.

Dr. Janos Porszasz has found a new way to occupy his time. Three large studies, one in people with pulmonary hypertension and two with asthma, are investigating medications intended to improve the ability to tolerate everyday tasks (in other words, the ability to exercise). Tests to determine the ability to perform exercise are our specialty and we’ve agreed to receive exercise data from all the people participating in these studies across the country and around the world. Fortunately, he’ll be getting help soon. A new junior member of our research faculty is being recruited, and we expect arrival early in the new year.

We’re pleased to announce a new member of our group. Dr. Nick Jendzjowsky completed his post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Calgary and joined our faculty last month. Nick has a special interest in the carotid bodies, small organs that sit high in the neck, and help to determine how much we breathe. Our research group did a lot of research on carotid body function 40 years ago.  It is amazing how much research has advanced since then! Nick has set to work establishing mouse models of asthma and of COPD (yes, you can get a mouse to smoke!) to study cellular mechanisms of carotid body function.

Educational Accomplishments

Our website committee has been working hard and our website ( has undergone a makeover. Its functionality (and attractiveness) have improved and a large amount of educational material is available anytime you need it. They have also been issuing blog posts every week or two. These are well-composed and highly informative. Several blogs related to the COVID-19 pandemic have been issued recently. To receive these blog posts via your inbox, go to our website and scroll to the bottom of the page; you’ll find it easy to sign-up there. We’ve been pleased to see that our ‘clicks’ and subscriber numbers have doubled in 2020!

PERF hosted a series of “Lunch and Learn” sessions in recent years. With the onset of the pandemic, we’ve switched to virtual “Lunch and Learn” sessions. These generally feature a patient-oriented lecture delivered by a member of the Board. We’ve been pleased to see the attendance at these virtual sessions is greater than what we were seeing previously in person.

While not strictly an educational activity, I need to mention the work of Chris Garvey. Chris is arguably the country’s most productive and most respected advocate for funding of pulmonary rehabilitation, which is a necessary step to increase the availability of this essential therapy. Go to it, Chris!

We wish you and yours a happy and healthy…and safe…holiday season.


Richard Casaburi, Ph.D., M.D.

President, Pulmonary Education and Research Foundation

Alvin Grancell/Mary Burns Chair in the Rehabilitative Sciences

Professor of Medicine, UCLA School of Medicine

Medical Director, Rehabilitation Clinical Trials Center

Lundquist Institute for Biomedical Innovation at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center

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