The University of Texas Health Center at Tyler :: Texas Lung Injury Institute

Texas Lung Injury Institute

"People become sick and develop respiratory failure. Our focus is to try and prevent that from happening," said Steven Idell, MD, PhD, vice president for research at UT Health Northeast. "Right now, there is no good therapy for lung scarring. And that’s important, because a fair number of people have developed diffuse lung scarring – scarring that occurs all over the lungs. Except for a lung transplant, there’s really nothing available medically to treat this type of scarring.

"A person developing lung scarring is somewhere along the continuum between lung injury and respiratory failure. If the scarring process has begun, we hope to stop it in its tracks. If they’ve already developed fibrosis (scarring), but it isn’t too far along, our goal is to arrest that, so the normal lung architecture can be restored. And if a patient is pretty far along the path, we want to be able to bring that process to a halt so the person would not need oxygen or deteriorate and need a lung transplant," Dr. Idell said.

Research: ScupaDr. Idell has spent much of his professional life investigating how scars form in the lungs. His research team’s goal is to find a way to prevent this scarring and reverse the damage it causes. "Our theory is that the lung scars much like a cut on your arm," he said. First, fluid collects in the cut, then a clot forms to stop the bleeding, and a scar develops. The same thing happens in the lung after it is injured by disease or trauma. Pneumonia, emphysema, and diseases of the immune system all produce scarring.

When lungs are scarred, they stiffen, making breathing less efficient. It’s harder for oxygen in the lungs to move into the bloodstream and for carbon dioxide in the blood to move into the air spaces in the lungs.

"For the past 20 years, we have investigated the process of early scar formation in the lungs," said Dr. Idell. "We’ve identified target molecules that could be used to prevent this early scarring. Several potential target molecules have undergone preliminary testing, and promising investigation is now ready to be done in clinical trials.

"We think we can prevent lung scarring using a clot-busting drug called scuPA," he said. "If the drugs produced through our research are able to prevent lung scarring, they could also be used against other diseases that cause scarring in the kidneys, the bowel, and other internal organs, and prevent scarring caused by tumors.

"I am deeply invested in this research. I believe these drugs are essential for patients with lung scarring and others suffering with related conditions where scarring causes problems in different organs" said Dr. Idell.

Doctors Idell, Shetty, Cines, Rao, and Mazar are involved in a $7.76 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This grant will fund research to provide insight into how the drug scuPA affects the cells that line the lungs. This lab-based investigation will complement the study of the drug’s effect in humans that will be occurring in the future.

Vijay Rao, PhD, a biochemistry professor at UT Health Northeast, will create proteins needed for the research. "Some of the proteins I’ll create for this study will also be useful in my research into the blood-clotting process, benefiting two studies at once," Dr. Rao said.

The NIH and other sources are funding the research being done by Dr. Idell and his team of scientists. But more money is needed.

Dr. Shetty pointed out that receiving the almost $7.8 million NIH grant proves that scientists at the national level recognize the importance of the research being done by the UT Health Northeast team for the past 10 years. "We are making an impact at the national level along with other highly recognized institutes such as Harvard, Duke, and Yale."

"Drug development is an expensive process. Preparing enough of the drug scuPA to meet Federal Drug Administration standards will cost about $5 million. It will probably take much more money after that to continue the trial. The more rapidly we raise those funds, the sooner we will start clinical trials," Dr. Idell said.

"Human health and the longevity of human life have improved greatly during the past 100 to 150 years due to the dedication of many great scientists who have given their entire lives to developing cures," said Dr. Shetty. "This is a continuous phenomena, a constant investment for mankind."

If the act of breathing is life in motion, then it’s through your generosity that the research being conducted at UT Health Northeast will offer better lives for generations of patients. Please help us keep the essential work going.

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