Expert Answers: Finding a Cure
Here at COPD.net, we often get questions about finding a cure. There are lots of conversations on our site and our Facebook page about this topic, so, coming straight from a community member’s comment, we asked our experts:
“What’s the status of research on finding a cure? Are they even looking for one?”
Response from John
Yes. Researchers are definitely looking for a cure. However, in order to find a cure, they must first find the root cause. Once the root cause is discovered, then efforts can be made towards finding a medicine to block its effects. COPD researchers in the field of genetics are working overtime to find this root cause. They have so far identified only one for sure COPD gene, and this is the one that causes a rare form of emphysema called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. This gene becomes active even if you never smoked.
Researchers believe there are many other COPD genes, and they believe these become active only when exposed to some form of environmental factor, the most common of which is cigarette smoke. Some of these genes cause airway inflammation, making airways hypersensitive to COPD triggers. Some of these genes cause airway scarring, causing airways to become narrow. These are some of the genetic changes that result in chronic bronchitis. Some genes cause an increase in protease, an enzyme meant to clean up debris and dead lung tissue, but in excess destroys healthy lung tissue, resulting in emphysema. There is a lot more involved here, but this should give you an idea of how hard researchers are working to find the root cause of COPD, better treatment options, and, hopefully, an eventual cure. I actually wrote an article covering this topic in more in more detail, right here.
Response from Leon
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), is a relatively common disease with millions of people affected by it around the world. It can be very disabling, especially if it has progressed to a more advanced stage. This is because the inability to breathe well can make it hard for people with COPD to perform their usual daily physical activities.1-3
Researchers and scientists have made enormous progress in understanding the disease and how to treat it, but there is much more work to be done. There are three main directions for future research about the disease:1-3
- Gaining more knowledge about all possible causes of COPD,
- Discovering new and better treatment options for people with COPD and
- Finding new ways to help prevent people from getting COPD.
It is well known that the most common cause of COPD is damage to the lungs from smoking tobacco. Researchers are investigating why some smokers get the disease, while others do not. This is of concern to anyone who knows anything about the disease. The next most common cause of COPD is indoor air pollution, from breathing in irritants either at home or in the workplace. As with smoking, researchers are looking into why some people who are exposed to the irritants contract the disease while others do not. It is well known that people with alpha1 antitrypsin deficiency (a genetic cause) are more likely to develop COPD whether they smoke or not. However, some people without the deficiency contract the disease even though they have never smoked or breathed irritants. For that reason, scientists suspect there may be other genetic causes for COPD that may be passed down within families.1-3
The number-one goal of research about COPD treatment is to find a cure for the disease. Currently, there is no way to cure the disease or to completely stop it from getting worse. Scientists are trying to find ways to stop COPD lung damage, and maybe even reverse damage that has already been done.1-3
There are already many ways to treat COPD symptoms and to slow the disease’s progress. However, scientists are always trying to discover new medicines and therapies that are better than the ones we currently have. There are many drugs being developed and tested for future use.1-3
Response from Lyn
Due to the prevalence of COPD, thankfully there is ongoing research toward finding better treatments, if not a cure. Interestingly, much of the research being done is in using less conventional methods to slow the progress and treat it. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are trying to find ways to use nanoparticles to administer certain drugs to only targeted areas, rather than widespread delivery which can result in unwanted side effects.
Some of the latest combination therapies have shown excellent results and may be further “tweaked” for better results in the future. Many of these combination drugs have only gotten FDA approval in the last couple of years – which shows pharmaceutical research is ongoing.
Stem cell research is another exciting area of possibility. Discovering a way to regenerate lung cells to replace damaged ones has incredible implications for people with COPD. Since other cells in our body regenerate, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that lung cells could do the same.
What are your thoughts on what you just read? Leave us a comment below!
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. "What is COPD?" Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/copd (Accessed July 3 2016)
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. "Future Research Directions in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease." Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-pro/resources/lung/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-future-research/workshop-summary (Accessed July 3 2016)
- COPD.net "Directions for Future Research" Available at: https://copd.net/basics/future-research/ (Accessed June 2016)