Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) involves progressive loss of lung function and ultimately fatal. IPF is characterized by scarring of lung tissue and is the cause of shortness of breath (dyspnea). The term “idiopathic”c means the disease has no known cause. The disease is known to cause permanent scarring of lung tissue and is recognized as a cause of Pulmonary hypertension (PH). As a result, patients with PH often have first had to deal with IPF as their primary health concern. According to the NIH, “The prevalence of PH in the setting of IPF has not been well described in the literature, with a reported occurrence from 32% to 85%,” and “diagnostically, recognizing underlying PH in the setting of IPF remains challenging because of nonspecific clinical symptoms and unrevealing ancillary testing.” Considering that some 48,000 patients have been diagnosed with IPF, and 40,000 have died in the past year — both diseases present serious treatment challenges. Generally, the only option is a lung transplant.
IPF generally occurs in individuals between the ages of 50 and 70, especially people who have a history of cigarette smoking. IPF affects more men than women. IPF affects the lung interstitium (spaces between the air sacs) and often times affects airspaces, peripheral airways and blood vessels. Diagnosis is often done with high resolution computed tomography (HRCT). IPF treatment involves reducing symptoms, slow down or stop disease progression, prevent acute exacerbations such that life is prolonged. As time progresses, the only option is a lung transplant.
According to a recent press release, one year ago, a patient named Gary Oberschlake was diagnosed with IPF. Gary who is just one of the 48,000 other individuals who received the same diagnosis last year, is a family man with four children and four grandchildren. He was told by his doctors that his only therapy option was a double lung transplant. Gary was aware of the inherent risks linked with this procedure and opted to forgo the surgery.
Gary took his time researching alternative options and became interested in stem cell medicine and its possible application for suffers of chronic lung disease. Although, excited about the possibility, his pulmonologist was not. The doctor didn’t see the clinical viability of stem cells for lung disease at this time. Nevertheless, he decided to go ahead with stem cell therapy at the Lung Institute in Tampa, FL.
Nine months after receiving his first stem cell therapy, Gary has seen results that exceeded his expectations. Needless to say, this left his pulmonologist and cardiologist in disbelief. In fact, all of the physicians that Gary saw after his therapies were shocked by his positive progression. This brought about a change in perspective on his prognosis by the physicians and the viability of stem cell therapy for lung disease. Since stem cell therapy for lung disease is in early development and advancements have been so recent, many doctors are skeptical.
Prior to Gary’s stem cell therapy, his cardiologist said “the next time he’d see me would be in a hospital bed.” Gary notes, “I’ve been able to do things with [my grandchildren]. Before I was only able to sit down and watch them.”
For those patients with various forms of pulmonary hypertension, the possibility of developing IPF is very real, and presents a serious complication for an already deadly disease. In many cases, PH patients may not even be candidates for lung transplants, due to their weakened health. However, the process of emerging stem cell treatments for IPF and other diseases associated with the lungs shows great promise for those also suffering with pulmonary hypertension and seeking out viable, less-dangerous alternatives for treatment.