Disease States / Molecular Diagnostics

Novel way of studying chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may lead to new treatments

Novel way of studying chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may lead to new treatmentsA study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine shows a novel way of studying chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (or COPD) which could lead to new treatments and ways to monitor a patient’s response to those treatments.  Researchers from the School of Medicine at Boston University have discovered a genetic signature for COPD from airway cells that have been harvested using a minimally invasive procedure.

With chronic obstructive pulmonary disease being incurable, contributing to 135,000 deaths a year in the United States, and there being no effective therapy to reduce the rate of lung function decline, it seems that only lifestyle changes can help those with the disease.

The researchers theorised that whilst chronic obstructive pulmonary disease  primarily affects tissue from deep within the lung, the effects of COPD may be detectable in tissue which is more accessible throughout the respiratory tract.  To study their theory, the team used a collection of airway cells obtained during a bronchoscopy.  37% of 238 samples were from patients who had mild to moderate COPD, with the remaining 63% from patients who did not have COPD.  Comparing the samples showed that 98 genes were expressed at different levels in those diagnosed with COPD against those without.  These results were compared with findings on the gene expression changes associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in lung tissue.  The results of the comparison were similar to the changes in lung tissue cells of people with the disease, yet the airway cells came from parts of the lung which were not thought to be affected by the disease.

The results showed consistent gene-expression changes in both airway and lung tissue cells in persons with COPD.  Whilst investigating the effects of treatment on these changes, the researchers found that the expression of some genes which had changed as a result of COPD, had reversed their treatment and began to look more like levels shown in current or former smokers without COPD.

Dr Marc Lenburg, an author of the study, commented, “part of the COPD ‘signature’ reverses with therapy, suggesting that examining airway cells might be a minimally invasive tool for monitoring the disease and evaluating the response to therapy more quickly in order to determine the best course of treatment for each individual patient.”  Another of the study’s authors, Dr Avrum Spira, went on to say, “I envision being able to examine airway cells from my patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease  to determine what is causing the disease and…recommend a more specific and effective treatment.”

Reference: www.sciencedaily.com

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