UCLA Health has launched a $20-million fundraising initiative to support the creation of a new research and treatment center for advanced lung diseases, including idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
The Lung Health Research Accelerator Fund initiative has so far raised $4.37 million, which includes three donations of $1 million each from Michael and Linda Keston, William Pierpoint, and Jeffrey and Robin Raich, along with $1.37 million from nine other donors.
The money will support the work carried out by two doctors from the medical school’s pulmonary and critical care medicine division, John Belperio and Joseph Lynch III.
Belperio is leading a research group that’s focused on transplant rejection — discovering its causes and developing new preventive treatments — in patients with advanced lung diseases, including IPF, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, sarcoidosis, and interstitial lung disease.
“Existing treatments for advanced lung diseases are unimpressive and leave patients with one option — lung transplantation,” Belperio, who holds the Guitiara Pierpoint Endowed Chair in Interstitial Pulmonary Fibrosis, said in a news story. “Unfortunately, transplantation is not a cure, with only half of lung transplant recipients surviving five years.”
“Our patients deserve better,” he added. “We need novel treatments that improve patients’ quality of life and ultimately support their survival. Our laboratory is committed to seeing this happen, and preliminary results are extremely promising.”
Over the last decade, research carried out by Belperio and colleagues has led to significant advances in the field of lung diseases. For instance, his research discovered that fungi growing in pulmonary airways could lead to chronic transplant rejection, which is part of the reason why clinicians started treating patients with antifungal medications immediately after their organ transplant surgeries.
The group also studied the role of several proteins in transplant rejection, described a less invasive method to assess patients with acute transplant rejection, and published a guide to help other research facilities create patient registries and databases of biological samples for IPF.
Each of the three main supporters of the fundraising initiative — the Kestons, William Pierpoint, and the Raiches — has a personal connection to advanced lung disorders.
Michael Keston, the former chairman and CEO of the KFG Investment Company, received a lung transplant at UCLA in 2009 after being diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis (PF). Between 2010 and 2015, Keston and his wife Linda made several donations to support UCLA’s research on PF and transplant rejection. Keston died in February 2019.
“The impact of my husband’s philanthropy and leadership on lung transplant research at UCLA will be felt for many years to come,” Linda Keston said. “He would be pleased to see his legacy continuing on through improved treatments and therapies.”
Belperio treated Guitiara Pierpoint, the wife of private investor William Pierpoint, between 2007 and 2012 after she developed IPF and underwent lung transplant. She died in 2012 from transplant complications, which led her husband to donate funds that could help Belperio and other clinicians to find a cure for IPF and lung transplant rejection.
“When you lose someone, you just can’t walk away and forget about it. For me and a lot of other people, this is an emotional gift,” William Pierpoint said.
Jeffrey Raich, co-president and co-founder of the global investment bank Moelis and Company, visited several specialists across the country who were unable to give him a proper diagnosis. After visiting Belperio in 2010, Raich was finally diagnosed with pulmonary sarcoidosis, a rare inflammatory disease that can cause permanent lung tissue scarring if not managed correctly.
After his diagnosis, Raich decided to donate funds to support Belperio’s research.
“After seeing multiple specialists who provided a grim prognosis, I was referred to Dr. Belperio and his team. They saved my life,” Raich said. “My giving is inspired not only by my immense gratitude but also by the knowledge that philanthropy has the power to transform care for these devastating lung diseases.”
All donations are part of the Centennial Campaign for UCLA, which is scheduled to conclude by the end of the year. Those who wish to support the Lung Health Research Accelerator Fund may do so through UCLA’s website.