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virtual lung project two scientists

Have you ever had a cold that just lived in your chest and you couldn’t clear it? The pressure is painful and frustrating. For people living with lung disease, it is potentially fatal. Over 250 million people worldwide suffer from COPD, a chronic lung condition, and millions of others suffer from potentially fatal lung diseases, such as cystic fibrosis or environmental lung disease.

At UNC-Chapel Hill, a team of researchers, including Rich Superfine, see a path toward eliminating this global health crisis. Scientists and researchers in applied mathematics, chemistry, physics, biochemistry and biophysics have come together with the long-term goal of permanent treatment. This Virtual Lung Project team is creating a simulated environment that replicates lung function and mucus movement to understand how to move the mucus out of the lungs. The project includes a cutting-edge “lung on a chip” that replicates the way the lungs’ cilia and mucus interact, from which they are developing a computational model that will predict and evaluate truly effective therapeutic strategies — moving us closer to solving this fatal global health issue.

lung on a chip

Researchers from the Virtual Lung Project team have moved their discoveries into commercialization. Superfine cofounded Redbud Labs, a company that manufacturers components for the life science industry, intended to solve the industry’s ubiquitous microscale fluidic challenges. Another Virtual Lung Project founding member, Richard Boucher, director of the Marsico Lung Institute, launched Parion Sciences, a development stage company dedicated to the research, development and commercialization of treatments to restore patients’ innate mucosal surface defenses.

UNC-Chapel Hill is rich in innovation and collaboration. According to the latest rankings published by Reuters (October 2019), Carolina is the #6 most innovative university in the world.

photo of Brian Button PhD, Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics near equipment
Brian Button PhD
Andrei Aleksandrov PhD
Andrei Aleksandrov PhD


The Virtual Lung Project is comprised of a team of UNC researchers that includes, Brian Button, Associate Professor and Andrei Aleksandrov, Assistant Professor.



Also part of the Virtual Lung Project were former members of Biochemistry and Biophysics, John R. Riordan, who retired in 2018, and Nikolay Dokholyan, who moved to PennState in 2018.

Read more about the Marsico Lung Institute and Cystic Fibrosis Center.

News courtesy of UNC Development Office Communications Team, edited by Carolyn Clabo.