Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation Unveils Groundbreaking Research by PFF Scholars



CHICAGO, Jan. 22, 2024 – The Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation (PFF), the nation’s leading pulmonary fibrosis research, advocacy, and education organization has announced five awardees for the 2023 cycle of PFF Scholars who will receive funding for their cutting-edge research. Each Scholar will receive a $100,000 research grant over a two-year period to improve the understanding of pulmonary fibrosis and lead to successful therapies in treating the disease.

More than 250,000 Americans are living with pulmonary fibrosis (PF) and interstitial lung disease (ILD). These disorders are characterized by varied amounts of inflammation and/or scarring that damage the ability of the lung to transfer oxygen into the blood. As the scarring worsens it leads to shortness of breath with daily activities and may result in death.

“The most recent PFF Scholars class is tackling some of the most urgent questions about pulmonary fibrosis,” said Scott Staszak, PFF Chief Operating Officer. “Our goal is to accelerate the Scholars’ research and support them in securing more substantial grants for their impactful work.”

The 2023 awardees of PFF Scholars and their research topics include:

  • Asres Berhan, PhD, University of California, San Diego

    Dr. Berhan investigates idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) using a unique three-dimensional organoid model. Analyzing genetic information at the individual cell level, he aims to unravel mechanisms controlling changes in lung cells, with the goal of discovering new pathways and potential drug targets for IPF treatment.

  • Ksenija Bernau, PhD, University of Wisconsin, Madison

    Dr. Bernau pioneers a novel method to assess pulmonary fibrosis activity using positron emission tomography (PET) imaging. Her research focuses on developing a non-invasive radioactive substance probe to detect and monitor the disease, marking a significant advancement toward clinical application. This proposal is funded by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

  • Anna Gersten, MD, Johns Hopkins University

    Dr. Gersten is dedicated to enhancing the care of pulmonary fibrosis patients. Focusing on palliative care needs, her interdisciplinary approach, manifested in a specialized clinic, aims to manage symptoms, particularly breathlessness, and enhance patients' overall quality of life.

  • Stephen Gurczynski, PhD, University of Michigan
    Dr. Gurczynski is investigating the relationship between cellular metabolism and inflammation in fibrosis. His research delves into understanding how immune cells respond to fibrosis-related signals, with a current focus on the impact of coronavirus infection on tryptophan metabolism and its contribution to lung diseases. This proposal is funded by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

  • Mathew McCarra, MD, Stanford University School of Medicine
    Dr. McCarra focuses on lung stem cell biology and its connection to fibrotic lung disease. He is specifically studying telomerase, a protein associated with cell aging, and its expression in different lung cells. Dr. McCarra aims to use his findings to develop new therapies that can improve the lives of patients with ILD.

The PFF Scholars program is designed to help talented researchers obtain independent funding to continue their studies. The PFF aims to support projects that offer a high likelihood of improving the understanding of pulmonary fibrosis in the areas of basic science, translational research, clinical research, epidemiological research, and health services research.

About the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation

The mission of the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation is to accelerate the development of new treatments and ultimately a cure for pulmonary fibrosis. Until this goal is achieved, the PFF is committed to advancing improved care of patients with PF and providing unequaled support and education resources for patients, caregivers, family members, and health care providers. The PFF has a four-star rating from Charity Navigator and is an accredited charity by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance. The Foundation has met all of the requirements of the National Health Council Standards of Excellence Certification Program® and has earned the Guidestar Platinum Seal of Transparency. For more information, visit or call 844.TalkPFF (844.825.5733).