Winter 2017

Chance to flourish

Pulmonologist and researcher Hyun J. Kim
Photography by Scott Streble

Why does one person survive for years with a disease, while another dies within months? That’s a question the U’s Center for Lung Science and Health is pursuing on behalf of people with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

This devastating disease interferes with a person’s ability to breathe, causes lung scarring, and, eventually, leads to death from suffocation.

The Alice M. O’Brien Foundation helped start the O’Brien Biobank for lung research at the U of M in 2005 to help researchers improve understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of advanced lung diseases such as IPF. Among its champions is pulmonologist Hyun J. Kim.

“My interest is in trying to find new targets for therapy,” she says. “By looking at IPF patients who live longer or shorter than is typical—more than five years or less than two years—we hope to discover specific blood biomarkers, perhaps differences in a particular protein, that protect patients who live longer.”

Thus far, 90 patients have volunteered for her study, donating blood and urine samples to the biobank every six months. Kim says support from the Alice M. O’Brien Foundation will be key to analyzing the information gathered from the samples. 

“It is philanthropic money that has allowed us to collect the samples, and it is philanthropic money that will allow us to move forward,” she says.