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NYU Winthrop Receives Research Gift of $50,000 from Foundation Focused on Finding Cure for Rare Pulmonary Disease
March 8, 2019

Cumulative Gifts from West Hempstead-Based Foundation Total $150,000 and lead to "Promising Progress" in Fighting Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

Mineola, NY — NYU Winthrop Hospital announced that it has received a donation of $50,000 from Mother Mary Breathe Easy, a West Hempstead-based non-profit foundation that funds research and is dedicated to raising awareness regarding Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF). IPF is a progressive respiratory disease marked by thickening and stiffening of lung tissue, which causes scarring and changes the lung's ability to function normally. The condition affects 100,000 people in the U.S. with more than 30,000 new cases diagnosed each year. There is no known cure for IPF, the word “idiopathic” meaning “of unknown cause,” and it was just such an unknown cause that prompted a Long Island family to search for a cure when its matriarch, Mary, was diagnosed with IPF several years ago. Since that time, the foundation, Mother Mary Breathe Easy, has raised a cumulative $150,000 that has been donated to NYU Winthrop for research into the pulmonary disease.

“We’re trying to open a different door into understanding this lung disease,” said lead researcher, Allison Reiss, MD, Head of the Inflammation Laboratory at NYU Winthrop Hospital’s Biomedical Research Center. “The challenging part was ‘How do we get into the pathology of the lungs without being invasive?’ That’s where NYU Winthrop has innovated, and using a hand-held portable device, we are collecting the exhaled breath condensation of patients to then examine cell fragments.”

Droplets from exhaled breath contain a variety of biomolecules from the thin, fluid lining that covers the small and large airways along with the alveoli, the latter tiny air sacs that serve a key role in respiration. Under the guidance of Dr. Reiss, the Inflammation Lab team of Dr. Lora Kasselman and Ms. Heather Renna are using leading-edge technologies to analyze the breath samples.

Added Priya Agarwala, MD, Attending Physician in the Pulmonary Division of NYU Winthrop Hospital. “Our data from the exhaled breathe condensation has shown a clear difference between patients with and without IPF. We have identified specific molecules, or microRNAs, that may hold the keys to better understanding IPF so that we may develop new therapeutic treatments.”

In particular, Dr. Agarwala noted that several fibrosis-related microRNAs are “overexpressed” in IPF patients, meaning that those genes have more influence than is usual and could cause lung cells to behave abnormally.

Dr. Agarwala is set to present NYU Winthrop’s latest study findings and shed light on the hospital’s investigation into the pathophysiology of IPF at the American Federation for Medical Research, Eastern Regional Meeting on March 30, 2019, in Philadelphia. The study compares the microRNA composition of patients with IPF to healthy controls in order to detect abnormal microRNA expression that may be leveraged to develop new IPF treatments.

“NYU Winthrop’s research has made very promising progress, and we’re pleased that our foundation – and four generations of our family – are helping to serve as catalysts behind this progress,” said Maryann Harding, president of the Mother Mary Breath Easy foundation. “Still, though sizeable, our donations only go so far, and additional funding is needed to allow this research to continue and proliferate.”

To make a contribution to support IPF please go to https://www.nyuwinthrop.org/give or call 516-663-3398 and dedicate your gift to Mother Mary Breathe Easy

Though the cause of IPF is unknown, possible risk factors include: a history of smoking; age (the majority of patients are 60+ when diagnosed); male gender (IPF affects more men than women); working around dust or fumes such as might occur with farmers, hairdressers, or metal workers; acid reflux; and disease genetics inherited from parents.