Our research mission

Imaging and biomedical engineering have enabled major breakthroughs in respiratory medicine. However, the causes for the emergence of heterogeneity in lung disease and injury, its progression, and responses to treatments remain largely unknown. At the Pulmonary Imaging and Bioengineering Laboratories, founded by Dr. Jose Venegas, we focus on understanding fundamental mechanisms in lung diseases and injury and their relationship to topographical heterogeneity. The ultimate goal of our research studies is to develop novel treatments and improve patient outcomes.

Pulmonary imaging

Our interdisciplinary team of physicians and engineers has developed advanced imaging methods and modalities that allow us to study a wide range of respiratory diseases and conditions in humans and large animals. Combining Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and Computed Tomography (CT) allows for both structural assessments using the high spatial resolution of CT and functional assessments using the excellent sensitivity of PET scanners for tracers and their kinetics.

Examples of innovations in imaging from our group include a highly accurate and unique technique of ventilation and perfusion imaging using the 13N-Nitrogen bolus-injection method pioneered by Dr. Venegas. We have also developed a patented method for calibrated image-derived input functions relevant for 18F-FDG kinetics, and a novel method for the assessment of the extravascular-extracellular volume in the lungs under conditions of regional edema and alveolar flooding.

Using quantitative PET-CT imaging, we have studied a substantial range of lung diseases and conditions including ARDS, asthma, COPD, healthy subjects, HIV, pulmonary arterial hypertension, pulmonary embolism, smoking, and ventilator-induced lung injury. The assessments in these studies included ventilation, perfusion, strain, 18F-FDG uptake linked to pulmonary inflammation, tissue volume, gas volume, gas fraction, aerosol deposition, blood volume, blood clotting, and other parameters characterizing disease-specific deviations from healthy conditions.


The close collaboration between engineers and physicians is essential for the success of our projects allowing us to identify the biologically and medically relevant processes and apply engineering methods in our investigations. Our most successful modeling project was a computational model of bronchoconstriction in an airway tree that could explain our findings of ventilation defects (VDefs) in PET images and showed for the first time that there is a tipping point beyond which asthma attacks lead to avalanche-like constrictions and self-organized VDefs.

We have developed PET tracer models and parameter estimation methods as key elements of our quantitative PET-CT image analysis and built an extensive toolbox of custom software (Matlab) with integrated bridges to the available open-source software 3D Slicer and ANTs. Last but not least, we build custom devices for our projects.

Latest news

Welcome to our new website

We are very excited about the launch of our new website and the new opportunities for sharing our innovative projects. Our group has a long history of very successful research projects being a testimony of advanced interdisciplinary collaborations between physicians and engineers in our research center and a dynamic team with many brilliant fellows, post-docs, Ph.D. students, and undergraduates.

New Investigator Profiles at the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine

Investigator Profiles is a new hub of all investigators and their profiles with an integrated search tool. It incorporates for the first time the personal profile pages of the 80+ investigators with faculty positions in our department's website Research in the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine. This is a major new presentation of the extensive spectrum of the research in our department, and we proudly contributed to the development.

Just accepted

Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 2021 Jun 24. doi: 10.1165/rcmb.2021-0168OC. Online ahead of print.
Smoking and HIV-1 Infection Promote Retention of CD8+ T Cells in the Airway Mucosa
Björn Corleis, Josalyn L Cho, Samantha J Gates, Alice H Linder, Amy Dickey, Antonella C Lisanti-Park, Abigail E Schiff, Musie Ghebremichael, Puja Kohli, Tilo Winkler, R Scott Harris, Benjamin D Medoff, Douglas S Kwon. PMID: 34166603

tipping points in asthma

Editorial | J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2021 Jul 23;S0091-6749(21)01129-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2021.07.010. Online ahead of print.
Airway remodeling: shifting the trigger point for exacerbations in asthma
Tilo Winkler and Urs Frey.
PMID: 34310927Share Link, open access including PDF (until September 16, 2021)