Breakthrough discovery will change treatment for COPD patients

July 10, 2018, University of British Columbia
Dr. Tillie-Louise Hackett is an associate professor in the University of British Columbia's faculty of medicine and principal investigator at St. Paul's Hospital Centre for Heart Lung Innovation. Credit: Providence Health Care

Permanent lung damage caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) starts much earlier than previously thought, even before patients are showing symptoms.

These are the findings of a new study recently published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. The breakthrough discovery, led by Dr. Tillie-Louise Hackett, associate professor in the University of British Columbia's faculty of medicine, will dramatically change how patients are treated for COPD, the leading cause of hospital admissions in B.C. and Canada.

Hackett, who is also a principal investigator at St. Paul's Hospital Centre for Heart Lung Innovation (HLI), and her research team found that even patients diagnosed with mild COPD have already lost a significant portion of their small airways—more than 40 per cent—on average.

COPD is a chronic, progressive condition that slowly damages the tissues of the lungs. Currently, patients with mild , as determined by a function test, are given minimal or no treatment.

"These patients often have little to no symptoms, so it was believed their lungs were relatively undamaged," said Hackett. "Now that we know the severity of the damage, we need to look at earlier intervention to ensure the best outcomes for COPD patients."

The new findings also suggest previous large clinical trials testing new COPD treatments may have failed because patients already had substantial lung damage.

"If the same drugs were tested on patients with more mild forms of the disease, and less tissue damage, the results could be very different," said Hackett.

Lung samples from 34 patients were analyzed using an ultra-high resolution microCT scanner, one of only three scanners of this kind in the country. The special scanner, funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and St. Paul's Foundation, was instrumental to Hackett's research. Though the HLI Lung Tissue Registry Biobank at St. Paul's has been collecting specimens for more than 30 years, the recent addition of the microCT scanner made it possible to image samples that are embedded in paraffin in extreme detail.

It is estimated approximately one in 10 people over the age of 40 may suffer from COPD. Martin Mannette has been living with the disease for eight years. He is managing well with a careful combination of medication, but the 68-year-old is excited about how this research could impact future patients.

"I worry about COPD taking over as the number one killer," said Mannette, "so anything we can do for the next generation so they can avoid COPD is so important."

Dr. Don Sin, the Canada Research Chair in COPD and a St. Paul's respirologist, said the findings have significant implications. By 2020, COPD is expected to be the third leading cause of death worldwide.

"This breakthrough finding will allow us to develop new drugs to treat patients with COPD at the earliest stages of their disease when the disease is reversible," said Sin. "This will prevent disease progression in thousands of and help them stay out of the hospital and remain healthy in their own homes."

Explore further: Exacerbations of COPD accelerate lung-function loss

More information: Hyun-Kyoung Koo et al, Small airways disease in mild and moderate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a cross-sectional study, The Lancet Respiratory Medicine (2018). DOI: 10.1016/S2213-2600(18)30196-6

Related Stories

Exacerbations of COPD accelerate lung-function loss

May 17, 2016
Exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) accelerate the loss of lung function especially among patients with mild disease, according to researchers at National Jewish Health and other institutions. Barry ...

COPD action plan shortens duration of flare-ups and reduces hospital admissions

September 28, 2017
The University of Twente carried out the first study worldwide that shows patients with COPD (lung disease caused by smoking) and other illnesses (heart disease, diabetes, anxiety and depression) have better outcomes if they ...

Using lung function tests to diagnose COPD can help patients and reduce health care costs

November 14, 2016
Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) would benefit if pulmonary function testing was used more consistently to diagnose the condition, according to a study in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal)

Rheumatoid arthritis linked to an increased risk of COPD

October 19, 2017
New research suggests that rheumatoid arthritis may increase the risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The findings, which appear in Arthritis Care & Research, indicate that greater vigilance may ...

Imaging could improve treatment of people with COPD

July 7, 2015
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) provide important information on the symptoms and exercise capabilities of people with mild-to-moderate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according ...

Poorer patients face malnutrition risk

November 16, 2016
Patients with chronic lung disease living in deprived areas are more likely to be malnourished than those from wealthier postcodes, a QUT study has found.

Recommended for you

Drugs that stop mosquitoes catching malaria could help eradicate the disease

September 18, 2018
Researchers have identified compounds that could prevent malaria parasites from being able to infect mosquitoes, halting the spread of disease.

Vaccine opt-outs dropped slightly when California added more hurdles

September 18, 2018
In response to spiking rates of parents opting their children out of vaccinations that are required to enroll in school—and just before a huge outbreak of measles at Disneyland in 2014—California passed AB-2109. The law ...

New evidence of a preventative therapy for gout

September 17, 2018
Among patients with cardiovascular disease, it's a common complaint: a sudden, piercing pain, stiffness or tenderness in a joint that lasts for days at a time with all signs pointing to a gout attack. Gout and cardiovascular ...

"Atypical" virus discovered to be driver of certain kidney diseases

September 14, 2018
An international research team led by Wolfgang Weninger has discovered a previously unknown virus that acts as a "driver" for certain kidney diseases (interstitial nephropathy). This "atypical" virus, which the scientists ...

Flu shot rates in clinics drop as day progresses, but nudges help give them a boost

September 14, 2018
Primary care clinics experienced a significant decline in influenza vaccinations as the day progressed, researchers from Penn Medicine report in a new study published in JAMA Open Network. However, "nudging" clinical staff ...

Rare antibodies show scientists how to neutralize the many types of Ebola

September 13, 2018
Two new studies by scientists at Scripps Research are bringing Ebola virus's weaknesses into the spotlight, showing for the first time exactly how human and mouse antibodies can bind to the virus and stop infection—not ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Anonym591019
not rated yet Aug 06, 2018
I had been hospitalized for 4 years in a row all in the same month march, for shortness of breath. They thought it was asthma. The last time which was this year, they hospitalized me for a week. Which they ran lots of test and determined I have COPD. The symptoms I had were shortness of breath, tired, and coughing.There has been little if any progress in finding a cure or reliable treatment. I was seeking something to help regain my life to be able to do things for myself. Through my primary physician i learnt about a COPD disease herbal formula from NATURAL HERBAL GARDENS and their success rate with the treatment, i immediately started on the COPD disease herbal protocol, I am glad to report the herbal formula worked effectively and there was no side effects, I had a total decline in symptoms, the Chest tightness, shortness of breath and other symptoms stopped, my COPD disease is totally REVERSED, Here is a link to the website we ordered from ww w.naturalherbalgardens.c om

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.