September 17, 2007
Center of Excellence looking for answers
Michael M.E. Johns is CEO of Woodruff Health Sciences Center, executive vice president for health affairs and chairman of Emory Healthcare.
Every year in September a national focus is placed on a puzzling disease that does not ring a bell with most people — Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. Doctors and their teams in the Emory Center for Respiratory Health are trying to find a treatment that could help people suffering from this disease.
Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, or IPF, occurs when tissue deep in the lungs becomes thick and stiff, or scarred, over time. IPF, states the Coalition for Pulmonary Fibrosis, will be diagnosed in 48,000 people this year, and 40,000 will die from the disease.
The word “idiopathic” actually means a disease has an unknown cause. Pulmonary refers to the respiratory system. The development of scarred lung tissue during the disease process is called fibrosis.
Doctors are beginning to recognize that something inside or outside of the lungs attacks the lungs again and again over time. These attacks injure the lungs and cause scarring in the tissue inside and between the air sacs. This makes it harder for oxygen to pass through the air sac walls into the bloodstream.
IPF varies from person to person. In some people, the lung tissue quickly becomes thick and stiff. In others, the process is much slower, and in some people, the condition stays the same for years.
There is no cure for IPF yet, and many people live only about three to five years after diagnosis. Emory doctors, such as Center Director Jesse Roman and colleague Rafael Perez, want to change the odds for people with IPF — so that they may live a longer life and one with a better quality.
In addition to finding clues as to the cause of IPF, the Center is focused on educating patients through the Interstitial Lung Disease Clinic. Emory pulmonologists and their teams can help persons with this condition manage symptoms and improve the way they feel.
Of course, the best-case scenario is to prevent any disease. Our respiratory experts want to find ways to prevent IPF, even though the cause is unknown at this point.
What are some healthy lifestyle choices you can make now that may help prevent lung disease? Do not smoke; prevent contracting viruses including seasonal flu, hepatitis C, HIV, herpes, and Epstein Barr; and limit exposure to environmental pollutants, including inorganic dust (silica and hard metal dusts), organic dust (bacteria and animal proteins), and gases and fumes.
Your genes may also play a role in the development of IPF. Some families have at least two members with IPF. Perhaps, in a not-so-distant future, Emory experts in our new Center for Health Discovery and Well Being can sort through gene profiles and provide information to help stall or prevent this disease from occurring.
For now our Center doctors are conducting clinical trials to find important new therapies, and Emory is co-sponsoring an IPF Education Day with the Coalition for Pulmonary Fibrosis Oct. 27 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Cox Hall. For more information about the event and to RSVP, call Mari Hart at 404-727-6552.
To learn more about Emory’s work to protect lungs go to: