Biomarker Holds Promise in COPD Treatment

A team led by U-M researchers discovered that a noninvasive imaging biomarker can identify small airway damage in COPD patients.

7:00 AM

Author | Staci L. Vernick

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an inflammatory disease of the small airways in the lungs, affects 16 million Americans and is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

COPD causes breathing problems and blocks airflow in the body. Symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, difficulty exercising and a history of asthma. It is diagnosed using spirometry, a breathing test that checks how well the lungs can inhale and exhale.

LISTEN UP: Add the new Michigan Medicine News Break to your Alexa-enabled device, or subscribe to our daily audio updates on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.

Physicians would like to identify the disease in its earliest stages, when it is most treatable. But it is tricky to spot damage to the tiny airways, called bronchioles. The bronchioles are less than 2 millimeters in internal diameter — too small to be seen on CT imaging.

Noninvasive technique

But in a landmark study funded by the NHLBI, an international team of researchers led by Michigan Medicine discovered that a noninvasive technique that measures lung density during inhalation and exhalation — called parametric response mapping, or PRM — could identify the small airway damage common in early stages of COPD.

Brian Ross, Ph.D., a U-M professor of radiology and biological chemistry, and Craig Galban, Ph.D., a U-M associate professor of radiology, are credited with the PRM invention.

The team reported the findings in a recent issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

"Now we have confidence in our ability to identify airway disease when imaging COPD patients," says senior author MeiLan Han, M.D., a U-M lung specialist and professor of internal medicine. "This is what we mean by bench-to-bedside medicine."

SEE ALSO: COPD Symptoms Common Among Smokers, Even When Undiagnosed

While these studies were performed in patients with severe disease, in another NHLBI-funded study, COPDGene, the PRM-defined small airway abnormalities have been detected on CT scans of patients with milder disease and help to predict patients who will lose lung function.

Han says there's more work ahead.

"We still need to validate the type of airway disease the PRM technique identifies in patients with milder disease," she says. "That type of lung tissue is more difficult to obtain, but we are working on techniques that would allow us to use smaller amounts of lung tissue to make such studies feasible."

MORE FROM MICHIGAN: Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Currently, there is no cure for COPD.

Lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, and treatment with bronchodilators and inhaled steroids can help expand airways and reduce inflammation. Surgery to remove damaged lung tissue and lung transplantation are options for some patients with severe disease.

SEE ALSO: Care for COPD: Could More Be Done?

Noninvasive measure

By helping to identify patients at risk for disease progression, PRM can serve as a noninvasive measure to aid clinical trials of new therapeutics, the researchers concluded.

"These results illustrate the importance of developing noninvasive techniques for improving diagnostic capabilities and advancing new therapies needed to tackle this devastating disease," says James Kiley, Ph.D., director of the Division of Lung Diseases at the NHLBI. "The refinement of this and similar approaches could also advance the study of COPD at its earliest stages of development."


More Articles About: Industry DX Lung Disease COPD Lungs and Breathing
Health Lab word mark overlaying blue cells
Health Lab

This article is from the Health Lab digital publication.

Media Contact Public Relations

Department of Communication at Michigan Medicine

MichMedmedia@med.umich.edu

734-764-2220

Newsletter

Get a weekly digest of medical research and innovation, straight to your inbox.

Subscribe
Featured News & Stories
Health Lab
ATS 2017 Wrap-Up: Rapid Sepsis Treatment, Predicting Mortality After the ICU and More
The annual American Thoracic Society International Conference wrapped up this week. Here’s a look at some of the newest research and stories from this year’s conference.
Health Lab
Care for COPD: Could More Be Done?
U-M researchers provide comprehensive view of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the U.S. Learn about their seven ares of focus to improve COPD care.
Courtney Weirauch and family
Health Lab
A rare diagnosis and a young mother who’s spreading the word
Courtney Weirauch didn’t know what lymphangioleiomyomatosis was – but she quickly learned about the rare lung condition and how it would impact her life.
gas stove pot cooking
Health Lab
Is your gas stove really hurting you and your family?
A pulmonologist discusses the risks and offers tips for protecting your health in your home
VAD heart device cooler red and teal
Health Lab
Medicare policy change could increase inequity in heart transplant access, study finds
Patients seen at transplant centers had almost 80% higher odds to receive “bridge-to-transplant” designation
senior walker silhouette playground children
Health Lab
“Sandwich generation” study shows challenges of caring for both kids and aging parents
Millions of American caregivers are part of a sandwich generation caring for aging parents and children. A new study shows the stress they’re under.