Ohio State Marion researcher helps find viral link to fatal idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

News Release Date: 
11.25.13

Dr. Virginia Folcik Nivar
Researcher & Senior Lecturer, The Ohio State University at  Marion 

Link to article in Modern Pathology: http://www.nature.com/modpathol/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/modpathol2013198a.html

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis linked with herpesvirus saimiri infection
Ohio State Marion faculty researcher’s hypothesis and research work key in discovering link

Written by Wayne Rowe & Virginia Folcik Nivar

Together with research collaborators and spearheaded by scientists at Enzo Biochem, Inc., Ohio State Marion’s Dr. Virginia Folcik Nivar helped find the link between idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a fatal lung condition, and infection with a monkey herpesvirus.

The end result of Folcik Nivar’s hypothesis and preliminary work on this research, with the laboratory work initiated by pathologist Dr. Gerard J. Nuovo, may produce a definitive diagnosis and treatment for this devastating disease. The work is ongoing at Enzo Biochem, Inc.

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a fatal disease without effective therapy or a definitive diagnostic test. IPF currently affects approximately 200,000 people in the United States alone. 50,000 new cases are reported annually. Of all cases, as many as 40,000 people die from the condition each year. Pulmonary fibrosis is characterized by the replacement of healthy lung tissue with fibrotic tissue that suffocates the patient.

Dr. Folcik Nivar, is a computational biologist, who teaches computer programming and biochemistry at The Ohio State University at Marion. Folcik Nivar initially theorized that the immune system played a role in the disease, and conducted research using computer modeling of the immune system and lungs. Her research was funded by a 3 year National Institutes of Health grant, beginning in 2009. Folcik Nivar later hypothesized that herpesvirus saimiri was the cause of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Together with Dr. Nuovo, they discovered an unexpected immune mediator in lung type 2 epithelial cells, interleukin 17. This led them to suspect that herpesvirsus saimiri might be present because it is the only virus known to contain the protein interleukin 17.

According to Folcik Nivar, clinical trials for a diagnostic test are underway. A mouse model of pulmonary fibrosis, caused by a murine herpesvirus, has demonstrated that anti-herpes virus drugs effectively cease the progression of the disease.

“I hope this finding puts an end to suffering and death caused by idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis,” said Folcik Nivar.