LCOM & Department News

Janssen-Heininger, Anathy & Team's Study Demonstrates Potential Lung Fibrosis Therapy

July 11, 2018 by Jennifer Nachbur

New translational research led by UVM Professor Yvonne Janssen-Heininger, Ph.D., demonstrates a novel biological therapeutic candidate for regressing pulmonary fibrosis in a difficult-to-treat preclinical model of the disease, providing much-needed hope for the roughly 150,000 Americans suffering from this devastating condition.

Yvonne Janssen-Heininger, Ph.D., UVM Professor of Pathology & Laboratory Science. (Photo: Medical Communications)

New translational research, published in Nature Medicine, demonstrates a novel biological therapeutic candidate for regressing pulmonary fibrosis in a difficult-to-treat preclinical model of the disease, providing much-needed hope for the roughly 150,000 Americans suffering from this devastating condition.

A chronic, progressive disease marked by lung scarring that impedes breathing and the flow of oxygen to the bloodstream, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) results in approximately 40,000 deaths each year in the U.S. alone. Believed to be associated with aging, the disease is diagnosed annually in approximately 40,000 individuals between 40 and 70 years of age. Survival is typically only three to five years after diagnosis.

This study included an examination of IPF patient lung tissue, transgenic mouse models and direct administration of a therapy based off an enzyme called glutaredoxin-1 – or GLRX – to the airways of murine models of IPF. GLRX repairs damaged proteins and is inactivated in the lungs of IPF patients and results in poor lung function. Senior study author Yvonne Janssen-Heininger, Ph.D., and first author Vikas Anathy, Ph.D., of the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine, and colleagues are inventors on a patent for GLRX, granted to the University of Vermont.

Though the exact mechanisms responsible for IPF have yet to be determined, oxidative stress is believed to play a critical role in modifying and altering the function of proteins or enzymes in various diseases, including IPF. However, the therapeutic potential for reversing the oxidative stress mediated modification of proteins was unknown. Janssen-Heininger and colleagues have discovered that GLRX is capable of reversing the oxidation of proteins, preventing the death of lung cells and ultimately, regressing pulmonary fibrosis in experimental models. The researchers believe that these positive effects raise the potential of GLRX as a therapeutic agent for IPF, which currently has limited treatment options.   

“This provides a strong rationale to develop inhaled glutaredoxin as a possible therapy for patients with lung fibrosis,” says Janssen-Heininger. She and the study authors state that further investigation will be needed to gain a deeper understanding of the activity associated with GLRX.

In addition to Janssen-Heininger and Anathy, coauthors on the study include: Karolyn Lahue; David Chapman; Shi Chia; Dylan Casey; Reem Aboushousha; Jos van der Velden; Evan Elko; Sidra Hoffman; David McMillan; Jane Jones; James Nolin; Sarah Abdalla; Robert Schneider; David Seward; Elle Roberson; Matthew Liptak; Morgan Cousins; Kelly Butnor; Douglas Taatjes; Ralph Budd; Charles Irvin; Ye-Shih Ho; Razq Hakem; Kevin Brown; Reiko Matsui; Markus Bachschmid; Jose L. Gomez; Naftali Kaminski; and Albert van der Vliet.

This therapy is being developed in collaboration with Celdara Medical, LLC, of Lebanon, N.H. and with support from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health under award numbers R44 HL129593-01 and R35HL135828.

Department Highlights

Yvone Janssen-Heininger, Ph.D., Jos van der Velden, Ph.D. (both Pathology & Laboratory Medicine faculty) and senior author, Charles Irvin, Ph.D. (Medicine), published "The Effect of Flavored E-cigarettes on Murine Allergic Airways Disease" in Nature Scientific Reports. The study has been cited in stories by several news outlets: U.S. News & World Report/HealthDay; American Journal of Managed Care; Medical News Bulletin; and Medical Daily. (2019)

Dr. Mark Fung, M.D, Ph.D., professor and vice chair for Population Health, was recently named to the board of directors for the Project Santa Fe Foundation, which “focuses on demonstrating the power of longitudinal clinical laboratory data to proactively augment population health in a value-based healthcare environment.” (2019)

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Dr. Bronwyn Bryant, M.D. was named a 2019 Frymoyer Scholar for her project, “Validating Entrustable Professional Activity-Based Assessment to Determine On-Call Competency in Pathology Residents”. (2019)

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Dr. Rebecca Wilcox, M.DDr. Rebecca Wilcox, M.D. was selected, by the Larner College of Medicine Class of 2019, to be the commencement keynote speaker. Read more... [Photo credit: Andy Duback 2019] (2019)

Please join Dr. Yvonne Janssen-Heininger in congratulating Allison Manuel and Evan Elko

Dr. Allison Manuel is a post-doctoral fellow in our group.  Her abstract to be presented at the American Thoracic Society conference was chosen to receive an Abstract Scholarship . The scholarship includes a full In-Training Registration to the 2019 ATS International Conference in Dallas, Texas.  

Evan Elko is a PhD student. He just received notice that his F31 NIH application entitled: “Role of peroxiredoxin-4 in Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis”  will be funded.

Congratulations to Evan and Allison.

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Department alumni, Dr. Bobbi Pritt, M.D. featured in Vermont Medicine Magazine. To read her story click on the photo below.

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Dr's Leonard and HuberA Remarkable Gift from Dr. Sally Huber, Ph.D.

At the end of last week's Research Day, Dr. Leonard gave a surprise announcement: a very generous bequethment of $5 million by research faculty emerita, Dr. Sally Huber! The funds will go toward two endowed professorships for junior investigators in our department. The endowments will be named for her parents, Elmer R. Huber and Blodwen S. Huber, and will support junior research faculty for five years.(9/2018)

This amazing support will allow junior faculty time and funds to gain independence while pursuing the milestone achievement of being awarded their first R01 grant.

Heintz Awarded 2018 Distinguised Graduate Alumni Award

Dr. Nick Heintz, Ph.D. received the 2018 UVM Medical Alumni Association’s Distinguished Graduate Alumni Award​, which is presented to Larner College of Medicine (LCOM) alumni who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in basic, clinical or applied research; education; industry; public service/humanitarianism; and/or outstanding commitment to the LCOM community.

He accepted his award at the college's Celebrating Research Excellence event at the end of October. (September 2018)

Kida Received Certificate of Commendation

Dr. Kida receives award from the State of Vermont...read more here. (August 2018)

Leonard and Committee Publish Through National Academies Press

Dr. Debra Leonard, along with a committee under the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, ​published "Returning Individual Research Results to Participants: Guidance for a New Research Paradigm" through The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2018 (Committee Member). (August 2018)

Excellence in Education

The Larner College of Medicine’s second year medical students nominate and elect faculty who they want to recognize for their outstanding teaching and support over their first years of the Foundations education. (February 2018)

Pathology nominees (winners in bold):

AMWA Gender Equity Award  - Pamela Gibson; Sharon Mount; Rebecca Wilcox

Dean Warhsaw Integration Award - Rebecca Wilcox

Silver Stethoscope Award - Scott Andreson; Maureen Harmon; John Lunde

Above and Beyond Award - Ronald Bryant; Rebecca Wilcox

Foundations Course Director Award -Rebecca Wilcox

Outstanding Foundations Course Award

  • Cardiovascular, Respiratory & Renal Systems: (Ron Bryant; Kelly Butnor; and Pam Gibson are the primary pathologists in each section of the course, respectively)
  • Nutrition, Metabolism & the Gastrointestinal System: Course Director is Rebecca Wilcox

Foundations Teaching Award - Ronald Bryant; Pamela Gibson; Rebecca Wilcox; Christina Wojewoda

Dr. Yvonne Janssen-Heininger Receives Patent

Yvonne Janssen-Heinger was awarded a patent on the ​concept that strategies to inhibit GSTP has utility for the treatment of patients with pulmonary fibrosis. Congratulations, Yvonne! (January 2018)

Drs. Bronwyn Bryant and Phillip Munson inducted into the Teaching Academy

Last week Bronwyn and Phillip were inducted into University of Vermont's Teaching Academy. The Teaching Academy sustains and supports an interdisciplinary community of educators who value the scholarship of teaching and learning while facilitating educator development; improve the efficiency and quality of medical education through collaboration and scholarship; and promote an academic environment that increases the value and impact of educators locally, regionally, and nationally. (January 2018)