A landmark study, led by a Launceston researcher, could change the way a fatal lung disease is managed and lead to new treatments and prevention.
Dr Sukhwinder Sohal said research into Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) had for the first time identified a new biomarker or protein produced as part of the disease biochemistry.
"It is really exciting to identify a new biomarker for the first time and importantly it opens up new areas for treatments," Dr Sohal said.
"This breakthrough finding paves the way to develop new drugs to treat patients with IPF and perhaps even prevent progression of the disease.
"It is great that what we are doing in Launceston will have a world-wide impact on the disease."
More than 1250 Australians are diagnosed with IPF each year. The cause of the progressive and fatal disease is not known. It usually occurs in people aged over 50 and can be hard to diagnose.
IPF causes irreversible scarring of the lungs, which worsens over time, making it hard to breathe.
Dr Sohal's research was presented to lung experts at the Australia and New Zealand Annual Scientific Meeting for Leaders in Lung Health and Respiratory Science on the Gold Coast on Monday.
Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand president Professor Allan Glanville said the research had significant implications both for clinical practice and for developing therapeutic treatments.
"IPF remains a fatal condition with no cure other than lung transplantation," Professor Glanville said.
"Currently available medications only slow the disease in certain individuals or treat some symptoms.
Research like this is critical to saving lives."
Dr Sohal and his team from the Respiratory Translational Research Group from the University of Tasmania in Launceston analysed data from a registry that collects information on patients with IPF.
He said the work was able to pin point a biomarker that indicated rapidly progressing IPF.
"In our study, low levels of the biomarker ICAM-1 were associated with the more stable form of IPF and better rates of survival," Dr Sohal said.
"This may help us distinguish between slowly and rapidly progressive IPF, making more personalised, tailored treatment possible."
Chair of the Australian IPF Registry and chief investigator, Associate Professor Tamera Corte, said the research removed some uncertainties for people with IPF.
"For patients with IPF, the uncertainty they live with is traumatic," Professor Corte said.
"Often, they struggle with delayed diagnosis, and the fact that no one can tell them why they have the disease or how quickly their condition will decline. This research removes some of those uncertainties and hopefully will lead to a more personalised approach to tailoring treatment to the individual with IPF."
Lung Foundation Australia chief executive Mark Brooke said the future was brighter because of Dr Sohal's work.
"Each year, research is enhancing our knowledge to support advances in diagnosis, treatment and hopefully one day - the prevention and cure of lung diseases like IPF," Mr Brooke said.
"The IPF Registry provides a central source of rich data that is being used in life-changing research. Thanks to incredibly passionate researchers like Dr Sohal, there is hope for a brighter future for people living with IPF."