5 PFF Scholars each awarded $100K in research grants

Grants support projects to improve understanding of PF

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by Mary Chapman |

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A scientist wearing gloves and safety goggles works with a petri dish in a lab alongside a rack of test tubes.

Five new Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation (PFF) scholars will each use $100,000, granted over the course of two years, to research new ways to diagnose, treat, or manage pulmonary fibrosis (PF).

The six-year-old program awards grants each year to help scientists improve their understanding of PF, a chronic disease that causes scar tissue to accumulate in the lungs, causing respiratory symptoms including shortness of breath and dry, hacking cough.

The grant program, designed to help scientists secure more substantial independent funding to continue their work, supports projects thought to have a high likelihood of enhancing PF knowledge across basic science and clinical, translational, epidemiological, and health services research.

“The most recent PFF Scholars class is tackling some of the most urgent questions about pulmonary fibrosis,” Scott Staszak, PFF’s chief operating officer, said in a press release. “Our goal is to accelerate the scholars’ research and support them in securing more substantial grants for their impactful work.”

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Projects target data modeling, imaging, palliative care

The five scholars are:

  • Asres Berhan, PhD, of the University of California San Diego. Berhan will seek to use a unique three-dimensional organoid model to analyze cellular-level genetic data. The goal is to unravel mechanisms that control lung cell changes and uncover new pathways and targets for potential treatments for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
  • Ksenija Bernau, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Bernau has pioneered a method of assessing PF activity using PET imaging, and is working to develop a noninvasive radioactive substance to act as a probe to detect and monitor PF. PFF said this represents a marked advancement toward clinical application. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals is funding Bernau’s proposal.
  • Anna Gersten, MD, of Johns Hopkins University. Gersten will focus on palliative care needs of PF patients. Herpage interdisciplinary approach, employed in a specialized clinic, seeks to manage PF symptoms, especially breathlessness, and improve overall quality of life for patients.
  • Stephen Gurczynski, PhD, of the University of Michigan. Gurczynski is studying the relationship between inflammation in fibrosis (tissue scarring) and cellular metabolism. His research focuses on understanding immune cell response to fibrosis-related signals. Gurczynski will use the grant to explore how COVID-19 affects tryptophan metabolism, as well as how the virus contributes to lung disorders. Boehringer is also funding his research proposal.
  • Mathew McCarra, MD, of Stanford University School of Medicine. McCarra is studying telomerase, an enzyme associated with cellular aging, and its activity in different types of lung cells. He plans to use his grant to develop new treatments to improve the lives of those with interstitial lung diseases, a group of lung disorders marked by inflammation and fibrosis that includes PF.

The grant applications are reviewed by the foundation’s research review committee, which includes a wide-ranging group of international experts. More information can be found on the PFF Scholars page.