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Could zinc be the key to stopping this deadly lung disease?

More than 100,000 seniors suffer from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IBF). There's no cure, but doctors are now one step closer to stopping its progression.

LOS ANGELES — Breathing is something most of us take for granted; we don’t even think about it. But for some, just this simple task of taking air in and out gets harder as they age. 

More than 100,000 seniors suffer from a condition called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, or IPF. There is no cure, but now, doctors are one step closer to stopping its progression and reversing it.

Most of us take about 16 breaths a minute – that’s 960 breaths an hour, 23,000 breaths a day, and eight million breaths a year. But some don’t take a single one for granted.

“Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a lung disease in which the lungs form scar tissue," said Dr. Paul Noble, the director of the Lung Institute at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles.

The cause of IPF is currently unknown.

“They either get a lung transplant or succumb to the disease within five years. The prognosis is worse than many cancers,” Dr. Noble said. 

Researchers at Cedars-Sinai have now identified a root cause of IPF. They found that stem cells lining the air sacs in the lungs lose their ability to process zinc.

“Zinc is an essential mineral. It's a nutrient that's used for a lot of cellular processes,” Dr. Noble said. 

IPF lungs are missing a protein called zinc transporter eight, or ZIP8, which draws zinc into the cell. When researchers fed mice zinc supplements, their fibrosis improved. When they added a combination of NAD+ and Sirtuin1 activators, all of which are supplements sold over the counter, the fibrosis improved and even reversed.

“The idea of potentially improving lung function is something that really gets me out of bed in the morning,” Dr. Noblesaid.

Next, Dr. Noble and his team hope to develop a clinical trial and are hopeful the treatment could not only help treat IPF but could also be a treatment for long-COVID and other respiratory illnesses.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Shelby Kluver at shelby.kluver@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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