Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

New Study Offers Hope for Stopping COPD Lung Damage

One of the most discouraging aspects of COPD is that there is no cure and the lung damage it causes is progressive. It can take years, but eventually, COPD will stop the lungs from working altogether. So, it’s exciting that researchers in Australia have recently identified a protein that plays a pivotal role in COPD-related inflammation. With this knowledge, there is hope for halting the progression of the disease. It may even be possible in the future to identify those at risk of COPD early on and preventing the disease.1

The role of inflammation in COPD

Before I get into the details of the study, I want to be sure our readers understand the significance of inflammation in COPD. There are 2 common changes in the lungs with COPD:2

  • Destruction of alveoli, the small air sacs at the base of the lungs
  • Thickening of the airway walls

There are various causes of COPD, with tobacco smoking accounting for at least half the cases. Other potential contributing factors include:2

The common effect of all these risk factors is that each of them causes lung inflammation. And chronic lung inflammation leads to the kind of lung injury and damage described in the first set of bullets above.

Details of the recent study on inflammation and COPD

Scientists know that elevated white blood cell counts go along with inflammation. White blood cells are your body’s “soldiers” in fighting disease. They multiply and mobilize when a threat is detected and inflammation is the result.3 Inflammation can be helpful in many cases, such as healing wounds. But when it spirals out of control, as it does in COPD and asthma, it can actually be harmful.

A major international study, done in 2012, revealed the association between COPD and a higher than usual number of white blood cells.4 Follow-up studies have also shown that high white blood cells counts are related to damage in other organs too. This includes the heart, muscles, and bones.

This information led researchers in Australia to research this connection more closely in lab mice genetically modified to be prone to COPD.5 In the process, they also found that these mice had elevated levels of a protein called granulocyte-CSF, or G-CSF for short. Why is this important? Well, the reason this discovery matters is because G-CSF is critical in stimulating the production of white blood cells.1

Researchers then went on to explore what the effect of blocking the G-CSF protein would be on the development and progression of COPD in the lab mice. What they found was that blocking G-CSF:

  • Prevented the alveoli damage
  • Reduced airway inflammation
  • Prevented related complications in other organs like the heart

They then proceeded to evaluate whether humans with COPD also had elevated levels of G-CSF. The answer was that they do. Researchers recommend that clinical trials be done with humans who have COPD. These studies would be designed to look more closely at the role of G-CSF, as well as it’s regulation and signaling mechanisms. In their study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, they theorize that such studies could lead to exciting new treatments for COPD.5

COPD prevention, detection and treatment

Experts do not propose eliminating the protein G-CSF from our bodies entirely. It does play an important role in our immune systems. They suggest instead: “We aren’t proposing to eliminate G-CSF but to keep it at levels within the normal range. That way we can preserve the normal defense function of these white blood cells but stop them from becoming over-aggressive to lung tissue and other body tissues.”1

Hopefully, in the future, this research will lead to new and exciting pathways to COPD prevention, detection and treatment.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The COPD.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Trounson, A. (2018, May 08). Putting the brakes on lung disease. Retrieved May 6, 2019, from https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/putting-the-brakes-on-lung-disease
  2. Oh, J. Y., & Sin, D. D. (2012). Lung inflammation in COPD: Why does it matter? F1000 Medicine Reports, 4. doi:10.3410/m4-23
  3. Immune response: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved May 6, 2019, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000821.htm
  4. Agustí, A., Edwards, L. D., Rennard, S. I., Macnee, W., Tal-Singer, R., Miller, B. E., . . . Celli, B. (2012). Persistent Systemic Inflammation is Associated with Poor Clinical Outcomes in COPD: A Novel Phenotype. PLoS ONE, 7(5). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0037483
  5. Tsantikos, E., Lau, M., Castelino, C. M., Maxwell, M. J., Passey, S. L., Hansen, M. J., . . . Hibbs, M. L. (2018). Granulocyte-CSF links destructive inflammation and comorbidities in obstructive lung disease. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 128(6), 2406-2418. doi:10.1172/jci98224

Comments

Poll