Zea Borok, MD, professor of medicine and of biochemistry and molecular biology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, has been elected to membership in the American Association of Physicians (AAP). The AAP is a professional organization that promotes basic and clinical research that can be applied to clinical medicine.

Each year the council of the AAP extends membership to individuals who have attained excellence in achieving these goals.

“It is a very prestigious society and I am honored to be a member,” said Borok, who is also chief of the division of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine.

Borok’s body of research has significantly advanced the understanding of alveolar epithelial cell biology. In particular, her research has shed light on the interactions that occur on a cellular level that lead to the development of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a progressive disease characterized by scarring of the lungs. There has never been an effective treatment for the disease, which ultimately robs patients of their ability to breathe.

That grim prognosis may be about to change in large part because of Borok’s research. Among her most recent findings was the discovery that inhibiting certain proteins blocks the interaction between two cellular pathways thought to contribute to pulmonary fibrosis.

“Pulmonary fibrosis is the most common of the interstitial lung diseases, with a fatality rate in line with cancer,” Borok said. “These findings have the potential to provide an alternative treatment for patients afflicted by this debilitating disease.”

Specifically, Borok’s team has shown that an experimental drug developed by Michael Kahn, PhD, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, dampens the interaction of the two pathways, suggesting that this drug has promise as a novel therapy for pulmonary fibrosis.

“Dr. Borok has made, and continues to make, major contributions to advances in pulmonary research,” said Edward Crandall, PhD, MD, the Kenneth T. Norris Jr. Chair in Medicine and Hastings Professor of Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “The importance of her work has already been recognized with an NIH MERIT Award and a special award from the American Thoracic Society for career research accomplishments. Her recent election to AAP is another well-deserved honor.”

— Hope Hamashige