Researchers at the University of Michigan have found a receptor that could help in new treatments to treat idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a deadly disease that causes as many deaths as breast cancer.

Targeting the TLR9 receptor may lead to treating or slowing the disease, which robs its victim of the ability to breathe, the study published in Science Translational Medicine said. IPF does not have a known cause, cure or treatment so far and rarely understood among general public.

“This finding has the potential to allow physicians caring for IPF patients to better determine the natural history of disease in individual patients, which could markedly facilitate decision making for the patient and their doctors,” says pulmonologist Fernando J. Martinez, M.D., M.S., a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical.

The National Institutes of Health has funded the University of Michigan for over two decades to understand the complexity of IPF and find effective ways to treat the deadly lung disease.

“The approach taken by our group really highlights the advantages of translational research in a complex human disease and shows the bench-to-bedside model is really a two-way street,” notes Cory M. Hogaboam, Ph.D., a professor of pathology at U-M and the study’s other senior investigator.