Researchers from human and veterinary medicine have met to discuss a lung disease killing horses, humans and other domestic animals.
They believe animals will hold the key to finding treatments faster.
Pulmonary Fibrosis is a little known lung disease, yet it claims as many human lives each year as breast cancer.
The lung disorder is characterized by a progressive scarring – known as fibrosis – and deterioration of the lungs, which slowly robs its victims of their ability to breathe.
In addition to horses, the disease is also known to affect cats, and dogs, especially terrier breeds of dog like the West Highland White Terrier.
There are no approved drugs for the disease in the United States, though a drug has been approved in Japan, the European Union and Canada.
Researchers from human and veterinary medicine gathered for a workshop late last month to create a roadmap for comparative research in the disease.
The Fibrosis Across Species meeting, in Louisville, Kentucky, discussed comparative research – or research that compares human disease to similar diseases in animals. It has been used successfully in the treatment of bladder, prostate, bone and other forms of cancer.
“We are concerned about the growing incidence and prevalence of pulmonary fibrosis and realize that research done the customary way has limitations,” said Dr Jesse Roman, a human pulmonary fibrosis researcher and chair of medicine at the University of Louisville.
“Studying animals, in particular horses and dogs, may allow us to better understand the underlying causes of this lung disease and how to best tackle finding life-saving treatments for all affected species.”
Kurt Williams is a veterinary pathologist at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University who has led research efforts in animals and has published groundbreaking work on the disease in horses. He said he was pleased to be part of a team of scientists seeking to make progress against the disease.
About 128,000 Americans suffer from the disease, and there is currently no known cause or cure. An estimated 48,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. It is difficult to diagnose and an estimated two-thirds of patients die within five years of diagnosis.
Sometimes, it can be linked to a particular cause, such as certain environmental exposures, chemotherapy or radiation therapy, residual infection, or autoimmune diseases such as scleroderma or rheumatoid arthritis. However, in many instances, no known cause can be established. When this is the case, it is called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.