covance clinical trials honeycomb lung IPF

IPF – The Worst disease You’ve Never Heard Of?

Recently, we’ve been recruiting healthy men and women to participate in the study of a new treatment for Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. The name’s a bit of a mouthful and it’s not a disease we hear about very often… so what is it, and why are we interested in treating it?

Pulmonary fibrosis is a lung disease which causes scar tissue to form between the air sacs in the lungs. As you’d imagine, this makes breathing laboured and difficult, and it also hinders the process of transferring vital oxygen into the bloodstream.

Presently, our understanding of this disease is very limited – the word ‘idiopathic’ means that the cause of the illness is not known, and the condition was only given a name at all in the year 2000. What we do know about IPF is that it is not contagious, it is not a form of cancer and it is not the same as cystic fibrosis. We know that it’s more prevalent in men, and it’s more common in older people. We know that it may be connected to smoking, or exposure to dust and other harmful chemicals. And tragically, we know that half of the people diagnosed with IPF will not survive for more than 3 years.

IPF Marlon BrandoAlthough you might not be familiar with IPF, you will most likely have heard of the actor Marlon Brando and stunt-driver Evil Knievel, both of whom lost their lives to this disease.

The early symptoms of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis include an extreme breathlessness caused by simple tasks like getting dressed, and patients can also suffer from anaemia-like symptoms of weightloss, fatigue and joint pain. Unfortunately, as IPF is a rare disease, these symptoms can be misdiagnosed as signs of ‘getting older’. Once a GP suspects IPF, chest x-rays and CT scans can be used to give a positive diagnosis – if a patient has this condition, the scans will show a ‘honeycomb’ of scarring within the lungs.

There is currently no cure for this disease. ‘Pulmonary rehab’, which is like gentle physiotherapy for the lungs, can be useful in helping patients to control the condition and breathe more comfortably. Oxygen tanks can also help by enriching the blood supply. A new drug called pirfenidone has been shown to slow the development of scar tissue in the lungs, but it is not effective for everyone, and it has a number of common side-effects including insomnia and sensitivity to sunlight.

In Leeds, we are holding clinical trials for a new drug which has anti-scarring properties similar to pirfenidone, but which appears carry less risk of side-effects, in the hope that one day, it can be used to improve the prognosis for all patients with IPF. Men and women aged 18-65 with no ongoing health conditions can take part in this study, and be paid from £100 per day for helping us carry out this important research. If you’d like to be one of them, click here to apply for this study, or give us a call on

 0113 3945 and blue lungs IPF