University of Idaho Biologist Identifies a New Autoimmune Disease

pfaujeanJean Pfau, an associate professor of biological sciences at Idaho State University, has identified a new autoimmune disease associated by exposure to asbestos. From 1900 t0 1990, there were mines in Northwestern Montana that produced vermiculite, a mineral resistant to fire and extreme heat. Today, between 30 and 40 percent of the population in Libby, Montana, have pleural lung disease as a result of exposure to asbestos that was in the vermiculite.

Dr. Pfau’s research using mice has found that the asbestos may trigger an autoimmune response that produces an antibody that accelerates the disease’s progression and severity. She introduced the antibody to mice that had never been exposed to asbestos and the mice developed fibrosis or scarring. Dr. Pfau’s research is now focused on humans and hopes to identify an antibody or an immune response process than can interrupt the autoimmune disease.

Dr. Pfau is a graduate of the University of Montana, where she majored in zoology. She earned her Ph.D. in microbiology and biochemistry at the University of Montana. She has been on the faculty at the University of Idaho since 2008.

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