U of C researcher receives funding to study rare lung disease

Pulmonary fibrosis, an encompassing term for lung scarring, affects about 40,000 to 50,000 people every year and currently has no cure

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A physician out of the University of Calgary has received the backing of a U.S.-based non-profit to study the causes of a rare lung disease with the aim of mitigating it in the future.

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Pulmonary fibrosis (PF), an encompassing term for lung scarring, affects about 40,000 to 50,000 people every year and currently has no cure. Dr. Kerri Johannson, a clinical associate professor at the University of Calgary and a pulmonary physician at South Health Campus, has been studying the disease for years and will now lead a team aimed at furthering the knowledge of what causes PF.

The Three Lakes Foundation is backing Johannson’s team, which will include experts from around the world as they develop a questionnaire that will help identify people who are at risk of developing PF and what environmental factors could cause the disease to develop.

“What I’m really trying to do is to develop an evidence-based approach to design a list of questions that we can ask people to find out who is at risk for pulmonary fibrosis and better understand some of the inhaled exposures that lead to pulmonary fibrosis,” said Johannson.

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Johannson said there are many forms of PF but one of the more common iterations is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, or IPF. When IPF is developed, the patient often only has three to five years to live.

“These diseases in general, we think they don’t impact everybody but they impact people who probably have a genetic predisposition. It doesn’t mean that it’s genetically inherited like eye colour, but there’s something about them that makes them more susceptible to developing the disease. And then along the way, there’s environmental hits that might happen,” said Johannson. “But we don’t know enough about how those inhaled exposures lead people to develop this disease.”

Johannson said her research will aim to find out what those exposures are. For example, she said they could look at vaping and e-cigarettes and what effect those may have on patients.

“It’s things like that where we don’t want to find ourselves 20 years from now saying, oh, boy, I wish we’d known that this was a terrible risk factor for this horrible disease with poor outcomes,” said Johannson.

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