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'I'm very passionate about unravelling ILD'

Professor Wim Wuyts
Reading time: 3 min

Belgian professor Wim Wuyts did part of his pulmonology training in the Royal Brompton Hospital in London (United Kingdom), where he was enthralled by the mystery of interstitial lung disease (ILD). He is currently responsible for the department of ILD in the university hospital of Leuven. It's his mission to create more awareness around ILD and to identify ILD-patients at an earlier stage. 'I feel we're just at the start of a revolution in treating ILD.'


'I'm very passionate about ILD', says Wuyts, 'which is partly caused by the great developments in this field.' Wuyts started working with ILD ten years ago, when little was known about the disease. 'Back then, it was very difficult to differentiate all the different illnesses that fall under “ILD”. Every ILD-patient got the same treatment and a lot of patients deteriorated very swiftly. I was lucky to do part of my training in the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, next to my training at the University Hospital in Leuven, where I was initiated in the mystery of differentiating between these two hundred different diseases.' In the years that followed, the diagnostic process in ILD got better and better, much to Wuyts' delight. 'It's a big revolution to see how we can treat IPF-patients much better now and how they can preserve a reasonable quality of life for much longer than ten years ago.'

We can treat IPF-patients much better now than ten years ago.

More awareness

According to Wuyts, one of the wretched things about ILD is that it doesn't immediately ring a bell when a patient hears the diagnosis. People tend to be afraid of lung cancer and are often relieved when they hear they are not diagnosed with it. 'But they don't realize they have a disease that can be just as aggressive as lung cancer', says Wuyts. 'So patients don't properly realize what the disease means.' This uncertainty produces fear and according to Wuyts it's one of the reasons more awareness needs to be created around ILD. 'We try to switch the conception of lung fibrosis as an unknown disease to the idea of it being a serious disease in which more and more possibilities of treatment emerge.'

We also need to create more general awareness about ILD in the medical sector

But not only patients need to be informed more, says Wuyts. 'We also need to create more general awareness about ILD in the medical sector. When a general practitioner for example hears fine crackles on both sides when auscultating the lungs, and heart congestion and infection are ruled out, he should think about a form of lung fibrosis. All sorts of physicians need to know that ILD is a serious condition that needs to be investigated further by a pulmonologist.' According to Wuyts, early identification of ILD-patients is essential for treatment. 'And that's only possible when there is more awareness of ILD in the larger population. When someone is short of breath without a proper explanation, or has a dry cough without an explanation, he should always be referred to a pneumologist, to rule out lung fibrosis.'

New treatment options

Before treatment options were available, people with an illness like IPF were presumed to have three to five years to live after the diagnosis. Wuyts is pleased that there are now two medications available for IPF, which can stabilize or slow down the disease. 'It's an advantage to have two medications, because when one turns out to be less active at some point, you can try to switch to the other one.' Another positive development is the possibility of symptomatic treatment. 'In 2017, not a single IPF-patient should have to live with a feeling of suffocation', says Wuyts. 'There are medicines that can suppress the feeling of shortness of breath and you can try to control the symptoms by administrating extra oxygen.' All in all, Wuyts appears to have a positive outlook on the developments within the field of ILD. 'It's very exciting that we are now able to really offer people treatments and I feel we're just at the start of a revolution in treating ILD.'