Scientists Discover Biomarkers for Diagnosing Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

A team of researchers has found that patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis also have elevated levels of myeloid-derived suppressor cells. Deteriorating lung function was inversely related to the number of these cells. The findings will allow for quicker diagnoses, resulting in more effective treatments. The details are in a paper just published in the European Respiratory Journal.

Pulmonary fibrosis is caused when scar tissue forms in the lungs, leaving the lung tissue stiff and scarred. This decreases lung function, leading to low oxygen in other parts of the body. When doctors don’t know what’s causing the fibrosis, the disease is referred to as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). Symptoms of the disease include a dry cough and trouble breathing. There isn’t a cure but early treatments can improve quality of life. Most patients only live up to five years after being diagnosed.

Myeloid-derived suppressor cells have been previously studied in cancer research. The cells suppress the immune system and higher counts in the blood are associated with aggressive cancers. While the cells were known for playing a role in cancer, they hadn’t been linked to IPF.

A research team analyzed blood samples from 170 patients, including a control group of healthy individuals. The team used fluorescence-activated cell sorting to determine the quantity of myeloid-derived suppressor cells in each sample. They found that patients with IPF had higher counts of the cells. Poor lung function was correlated with a higher number of suppressor cells. The team believes that these cells can be used as biomarkers to diagnose IPF.

The researchers were able to show a link between myeloid-derived suppressor cell counts and IPF. Patients with IPF have higher counts of the cells, with the number increasing as lung function worsens. These findings can be used to diagnose IPF quickly, potentially resulting in better treatments. While there isn’t a known cure for IPF, the study provides new insights into how the disease works. The team plans to further investigate the role of the suppressor cells. It’s possible that blocking their functions could lead to new treatment options.


Isis E. Fernandez et al. Peripheral blood myeloid-derived suppressor cells reflect disease status in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. European Respiratory Journal (2016).

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