Great Loss Inspires Search for IPF Cure

reprinted from Issue 14, Spring 2012 of Frontiers of Medicine (PDF)

In 1975, Virginia and Raymond Harroun lost their 35-year-old son, John, to pulmonary fibrosis – a disease that scars the lungs, for reasons that are still unknown. In addition to his parents, John also left behind his sister, Anne, and his wife, Ivory.

Tragically, John’s father, Raymond, also developed the disease, and died in 1988. Then in 2000, Anne passed away from pulmonary fibrosis.

After losing her entire family to this disease, Virginia Harroun established the Harroun Family Foundation in 2001. It is dedicated to supporting research to find a cure for familial pulmonary fibrosis.

Harold R. Collard, MD, on the left, speaks with a patient.

In 2006, board members of the foundation attended a patient symposium in San Francisco sponsored by the Coalition for Pulmonary Fibrosis. Harold R. Collard, MD, director of the UCSF Interstitial Lung Disease Program, was one of the speakers (see story, back page). “We were so impressed by his research in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) that we invited him for lunch, where he gave us a presentation on the work he was doing,” says Ivory Harroun Myers, John’s widow. Because John, Raymond and Anne suffered from a familial form of IPF, Virginia Harroun chose to support UCSF projects investigating different aspects of how genetics affect IPF.

Mrs. Harroun passed away at the age of 96, and Mrs. Myers was elected as the Harroun Family Foundation’s president and board chairman. The foundation has been able to make a gift to UCSF to support a postdoctoral IPF researcher for two years.

“Having early-career researchers who are bright, energetic and have time to commit to projects makes all the difference – yet it is very difficult to find funding for these kinds of positions,” says Dr. Collard. “Support like the Harroun Family Fellowship is the essential catalyst for discovery.”

“The big challenge with IPF is, we don’t understand the underlying cause of the disease,” says Dr. Collard. “We are making progress – for example, we now know that up to 20 percent of cases of lung fibrosis occurs in closely related family members, and we understand some of the pathways involved in familial disease. However, we need to continue our research into the biology of lung fibrosis so that we can design and target novel treatments, which will have a much greater chance of improving the outcome for these patients.”

“We are so pleased that we are able to do this – not only on behalf of the Harroun family, but for others who suffer from this disease,” says Mrs. Myers. “We who have been through this know the suffering the families go through. We are very grateful that we can partner with UCSF and Dr. Collard to help find a cure for this disease.”

See related story: Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis Care and Research at UCSF.

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