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 study published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. The 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 BC 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%) on average.
Currently, patients with mild COPD, as determined by a lung function test, are given minimal or no treatment.
The new findings also suggest previous large clinical trials testing new COPD treatments may have failed because patients already had substantial lung damage.
Lung samples from 34 patients were analyzed using an ultra-high resolution microCT scanner, one of three scanners of this kind in the country. 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 1 in 10 people over the age of 40 may suffer from COPD. 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.
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