Notes regarding the LAM Science Research programme Funded in part by the New Zealand LAM Trust

Principal Investigator at the University of Auckland School of Medical and Health Sciences: Assoc/ Professor Mervyn J Merrilees and investigation team

The first investigations in New Zealand into the abnormal smooth muscle proliferation in the rare lung disease Lymphangioleiomyomatosis ( LAM) began in the Lab of Professor Mervyn J Merrilees in the Dept of Anatomy with Radiology – University of Auckland, in 2001.

In those first studies Professor Merrilees found that while the abnormal cells are the primary problem, the normal cells of the lung also change their function and produce the wrong kinds of molecules. As a result, the structure of the lung is changed, and the lung becomes less efficient.

March 2006:

In studies here in Auckland, coupled with the results of collaborative work with investigators in Australia, USA and Canada, Professor Merrilees has shown recently that it is possible to restore elastic fibres to blood vessels. Elastic fibres are of paramount importance to lung function and we now know that the disease state of LAM is, in part, a result of a disruption to the assembly of elastic fibres. One question that is now being asked by his group, with support of the NZ LAM Trust, is whether elastic fibres can be restored to LAM lung?

We also know that there appears to be some promise in an old drug, but new to LAM, called rapamycin – isolated originally from soil organisms on Easter Island. There are good reasons for believing that this drug will help not only stop the growth of the abnormal cells but, from Professor Merrilees work, may restore that balance of molecules that are produced in the wrong amounts. Trials are underway in the USA and England and shortly we hope to establish an Australasian trial, based in Sydney.

All of this research gives us great hope. The work at the University of Auckland indicates there may be a possibility – not only to stop the deterioration in the lung structure and therefore stabilise lung function, but also to find out if it is possible to reverse the damage that has been done.

The only way we will be able to defeat this disease is to gain more knowledge about LAM lungs and especially about the reasons for such devastating changes, and the only way of gaining new knowledge is through research. Over the past decade the progress on understanding LAM has been remarkable, probably faster than for any other disease, but there is still a long way to go.

You can help :

  • By making a tax deductible donation to the LAM Trust
  • By sponsoring a research project in the name of a New Zealand LAM patient
  • By directing the Trust to organisations or individuals who may be approached to provide funding
  • By creating a legacy through a family donation or by including the NZ LAM Trust in your Will
  • By supporting and contributing to fund raising events that will benefit the LAM Trust.

For enquiries on how you can help please email