Tulane Studies Role of Viruses in Chronic Lung Diseases

June 5, 2006

Fran Simon
Phone: 504-247-1433

The Tulane University Section of Pulmonary Diseases and Critical Care Medicine recently received two major grants from the National Institutes of Health to study the role of viruses in chronic lung diseases. Joseph Lasky, chief of the section of pulmonary diseases, received a five-year grant of more than $2 million to study the role of HIV in pulmonary hypertension, and a four-year grant of nearly $1.5 million to study the role of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

"Latent viruses may alter cell behavior and cause the lungs to undergo abnormal repair, such as exuberant scarring, in response to insults or injuries," Lasky says.

IPF, scarring of unknown cause in the lungs, produces shortness of breath with exertion. There are as many as 30,000 newly diagnosed cases of IPF in the United States annually. The Tulane Gulf South Clinical Research Network is reaching out to IPF patients in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and Florida, combining forces with 10 other national centers working together to determine which pharmacological agents show the most promise to treat lung scarring and prolong life for IPF patients.

"About half the patients with IPF will die within three years of their diagnosis, but a minority of patients may survive for 10 years," Lasky says. "Patients with IPF who carry EBV, or other herpes virus, have a latent viral infection or may have undergone a viral genetic rearrangement that causes a more precipitous decline in lung function. One could look at the underlying disease of IPF as a smoldering fire, and the virus is a hot, dry wind that fans the flames."

Likewise, HIV seems to contribute to the development of pulmonary arterial hypertension, elevated blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries that presents as shortness of breath on exertion and often causes death from right-sided heart failure. Co-investigators on the EBV/IPF study are Eric Flemington, Gilbert Morris and Debbie Sullivan in the pathology department, and Gary Hoyle and Bin Shan in the pulmonary diseases section.

Collaborators on the HIV/pulmonary hypertension study are Shan, Cindy Morris in the microbiology and immunology department, and Debasis Mondal, Krishna Agrawal and Phil Kadowitz in the pharmacology department.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000