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Patient's generosity after death leads to possible clues for lung disease

PITTSBURGH Thanks in large part to a dying patient's generosity, researchers have for the first time begun to analyze the progression of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a degenerative illness distinguished by lung inflammation, scarring and diminished breathing capacity that typically leads to death within about five years of diagnosis. The project, involving the examination of lung tissue recovered shortly after death in a process called warm autopsy, is described by University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers in the June issue of PLoS Medicine, an online journal of the Public Library of Science.

"Up until now, what we have been able to do has been limited by the lack of availability of lung tissue for study," said Naftali Kaminski, M.D., director of the Dorothy P. & Richard P. Simmons Center for Interstitial Lung Disease in the division of pulmonary, allergy and critical care medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and senior author of the PLoS essay, "Lessons from Our Patients: Development of a Warm Autopsy Program."

Warm autopsy a practice involving retrieval of organs within six hours of death has been in use for more than 25 years, chiefly in the study of Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis. However, the University of Pittsburgh's program, which began at the suggestion of an IPF patient, is among the first to use the technique for lung disease research. "Obtaining such prompt access to the organs will, we hope, allow us to approximate disease conditions in a living patient," said Kathleen Oare Lindell, R.N., clinical nurse specialist at the Simmons Center and the essay's first author. "The goal is to learn as much as we can about how IPF works."

Some 5 million people worldwide and 200,000 in the United States are affected by pulmonary fibrosis. Some known causes of pulmonary fibrosis include occupational and environmental exposure to asbestos, metal dust, farming chemicals and mold, an infla
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