Columbia Respiratory Epidemiology Program

Chronic lower respiratory disease (CLRD) is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and globally. CLRD includes several, overlapping diseases: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or airflow limitation that does not fully reverse; emphysema, or lung tissue destruction; chronic bronchitis, or symptoms of chronic productive cough; and asthma, which is characterized by intermittent airflow limitation. The Columbia Respiratory Epidemiology Program (C-REP) aims to arrive at a better definition and understanding of CLRD by applying advanced imaging married to physiology, genomic and biologic approaches in the general population and to develop diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for these diseases.

The major cohorts, which provide an infrastructure for development and training, include the MESA Lung Study, the MESA COPD Study, the MESA Lung Imaging (machine-learning) Study and SPIROMICS, among other studies.


R Graham Barr, MD, DrPH

Elizabeth Oelsner, MD, MPH

Benjamin Smith, MD, MS

Tess Pottinger, PhD

Current Trainees:

Daniel Guzman, MD

Postdoctoral Clinical Fellow


Kristin Buschur, PhD

Associate Research Scientist

Michael Backman

Statistical Analyst/Data Manager

Emilay Florez

Project Coordinator II

M. Lorena Gomez-Blum

Project Coordinator II

Rodney Martinez

Project Coordinator II

Ramaz Elsadig

Project Coordinator II

Main Studies:

The MESA Lung Study

The MESA Lung Study, part of the larger MESA Study, is funded around the endothelial hypothesis of emphysema and the significance of emphysema in the general population. It was the first population-based cohort to incorporate both lung function measured by spirometry and lung structure assessed on CT scans in the general population and is currently the longest-running large-scale study of lung imaging. It recruited 3,965 MESA participants in 2004-06 and recently completed spirometry and CT scans for over 2,650 participants in 2017-18. It provides a population laboratory for understanding CLRD.


The MESA COPD Study is a nested case-control study of COPD  to examine cardiopulmonary interactions in COPD. 325 participants were recruited in 2009-11 and reexamined in 2016-18. Measures include cardiopulmonary MRI, 3He MRI, full-lung CT scan, pulmonary function testing, cellular and blood biomarkers, and gene expression.

The MESA Lung Imaging Study

The MESA Lung Imaging Study is using advances unsupervised machine learning to discover new subtypes of emphysema in the MESA Lung Study and SPIROMICS.

The NHLBI Pooled Cohorts Study

This large, US general population-based sample was developed by systematically harmonizing and pooling data from nine NIH-funded cohorts.


Columbia is one site for the SubPopulations and InteRmediate Outcome Measures in COPD Study, which  recruited almost 3,000 participants in 2009-11 and is currently reexamining them to determine sub-phenotypes and potential intermediate outcomes in COPD.  

COPD Gene Study

Columbia is one site for the COPD Gene Study, which recruited 10,000 participants to determine the genetic basis of COPD.