£600,000 invested in research announced by Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis to help unravel the genetics of lung scarring

We are proud to announce the award of two new Mike Bray Fellowships, worth a total of £600,000, funded entirely by our amazing fundraisers and donors.

Over the next three years, two UK-based scientists – Dr Bin (Kevin) Liu (Imperial College London) and Dr Jenny Dickens, (University of Cambridge) - will be working to increase our biological understanding of lung scarring in the search for new and better treatments. During their Fellowships they will develop new research skills and experience to become future leaders of pulmonary fibrosis research, working to stop lives being lost to PF.

At APF, we want to change the lives of people affected by PF both now and in the future, and research is vital to achieving this.  However, pulmonary fibrosis research is critically underfunded.  This means that every penny raised for research needs to make a real difference.    

Louise Wright, APF CEO said,

It is with huge thanks to our fundraisers and donors, that we were able to invite exceptional scientists from around the UK to submit their research ideas to us. Guided by the top research priorities and the quality of the science, we worked with an independent panel of experts, including people with lived experience of PF, to help us decide who to fund.  Both of the new Fellowships in their unique ways seek to work towards that single aim.
We extend our thanks to the panel of experts who gave their time and expertise to review and select our finalists.  We thank all those who applied. It’s a tough time to be a researcher, especially in pulmonary fibrosis which is chronically underfunded compared to areas such as cancer or heart disease. However, selecting two fellows and supporting their research over the next three years is a significant milestone we can all be proud of. Their findings will be eagerly awaited from around the world, getting us closer to the day when no one will lose their life to pulmonary fibrosis.

Our Fellowship programme is named in memory of APF founder and first Chair of Trustees, IPF patient Mike Bray, who died in January 2017. Mike’s wife, Elizabeth Bray is an Expert by Experience on our Research Review Panel.

Elizabeth says,

From my experience as the carer and now widow of an IPF patient, I know how vital this research is. As a lay member of the research panel, it was a privilege to be involved in selecting the two excellent fellows supported this year, from a very high standard of applications.  It was very encouraging to understand the rigorous selection process and to have the views from the patients’ perspective considered, alongside those of the experienced scientists.

We launched the Mike Bray Fellowship programme in 2019, funding our first two APF Fellows Professor Phil Molyneaux and Dr Richard Allen.  Their APF-funded research has significantly advanced our understanding of the role genetics and the gut microbiome play in the development and progression of pulmonary fibrosis.  Today, their research findings are being used around the world to support the identification of new treatments and to drive improvements in care.

Michael Stubbins, Chair of Trustees, remarked that,

The ability to support and promote research into pulmonary fibrosis is core to the vision, mission & values of APF. We believe it is the only way to better-understand, treat and ultimately work towards stopping lung fibrosis in the coming years and for future generations. The Fellowship awards for Dr Liu and Dr Dickens support exciting new research programmes and build on the solid foundations set by the previous award recipients.

Meet Dr Bin (Kevin) Liu, National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London - commencing April 2024

Pictured: Dr Bin (Kevin) Liu from Imperial College London
During my training as a doctor, I was struck by the difficulties patients with pulmonary fibrosis faced, with no access to a treatment that could stop the disease.  I was motivated to take a step back from directly caring for patients to dedicate my time to understanding what is actually happening in the lungs.  The APF Fellowships, recognized for supporting pioneering research in this field, offer me a unique opportunity to try to uncover new treatment targets and improve outcomes for patients.
My research focuses on how and why lung scarring occurs.  I work in a laboratory and study cells and molecules in human lung tissue.  I’m interested in a type of signalling protein called AKAP13, that appears to have a role in the development of pulmonary fibrosis.  I want to understand why there is more AKAP13 in damaged lung tissue and whether lowering the level of AKAP13 in lung cells ‘switches off’ pathways that drive lung scarring.  Although my initial focus is on AKAP13, the techniques I will be developing can be applied to other potential drug targets as we learn more about the disease.

Meet Dr Jenny Dickens, University of Cambridge - commencing November 2024

Pictured: Dr Jenny Dickens from the University of Cambridge
Studying PF in families has taught us how changes to lung cells called alveolar type 2 (AT2) cells are crucial to the development of familial pulmonary fibrosis.  Medicines that target AT2 cells have the potential to stop the disease at a much earlier stage than existing drugs. But AT2 cells are difficult to work with in a laboratory, so I will be using cutting edge technologies to grow miniature 3D versions of the lung to understand more about these important cells in Familial PF.  New insights gained could also improve our understanding of other forms of pulmonary fibrosis.
I was inspired to undertake a PhD during my training in respiratory medicine having seen a patient with a rare genetic lung disease that sparked my interest. My ongoing work as a respiratory consultant and researcher is entirely inspired by my patients; trying to understand more about their conditions so we can develop better treatments. So it felt like a natural fit to apply for a Mike Bray Fellowship to support my work. This funding will be transformational for my research career, providing a springboard to establish a large research programme and allow me to take the next step to set up my own research group aiming to understand the triggers of pulmonary fibrosis and develop new treatments.

During their Fellowships, Dr Liu and Dr Dickens will gain valuable experience delivering their own research and developing important new collaborations and partnerships.  We are confident that they will increase knowledge and awareness of PF in the UK and worldwide.  As research funders, APF actively support our Fellows, connecting them with the PF community, helping to shape their work.  We look forward to updating you as their exciting research progresses.

Interested in getting involved in research?

At APF, we know that supporting research into pulmonary fibrosis is a powerful motivator for many of us to get involved as supporters, volunteers or donors.  By investing in research today,  we are providing vital support for generations to come so that we can stop lives being lost to PF.

Help us give hope through research.

Will you join us this April and raise vital funds towards ground breaking new research into PF?

APF funded research is only possible thanks to the support of our generous community of supporters. Join us this April for our Walk for Hope and raise funds for research.  Get together with a group of loved ones, pick a date, a location and distance, and raise money – it's as simple as that! Every penny you raise will go towards improving our understanding of PF and making progress towards faster diagnosis, new and better treatments, symptom control, and improved services and care.

If you can’t join our Walk for Hope, can you make a gift today, to continue our vital work?

Every donation truly changes lives.

Could you share your lived experience with scientists to help shape future PF research? Or work with us to decide what research we fund?

Contact us at involvement@actionpf.org to find out how you can get involved in research.