Why is there no cure for COPD? Why is so much known about other diseases, yet so little known about ours? These are viable questions I hear often. Trust me when I say there are good answers to these questions. Here’s what I think.
Why is so little known about COPD?
I would like to answer this question first. So little is known because COPD is a relatively new disease. It was not defined for the medical community until the 1940s. By new, I don’t mean that it is a new entity. By new I’m not saying it did not exist. A few special doctors knew about it. But, each had his own term for describing it. Each had his own remedies for treating it. It wasn’t until the 1940s that experts got together to officially define COPD as we know it today.
Put it this way. Hippocrates clearly defined pneumonia as far back as 400 B.C. They had thousands of years to study pneumonia. COPD is currently being studied. As the third leading cause of death, it’s being studied hard. With modern technology, it won’t take thousands of years to cure COPD. But, it’s still going to take some time.
Why is there no cure?
My answer to the last questions should serve as an answer to this too.
But, I won’t let myself off the hook that easy. It also has to do with our understanding of COPD genes. It was only in the mid 1980s that researchers started to map out the gene code. The goal here was to learn what each gene does. So, what genes are responsible for COPD? Researchers have found a few such genes. But, it’s going to take some time to finish out this mapping.
What else do researchers need to learn?
There are specific genes responsible for keeping your lungs healthy. When you inhale noxious substances day after day after day, these genes may become damaged. This causes them to become mutated. This causes them to become COPD genes. Or, at least this is the theory. One such substance is chemicals in cigarette smoke. Another is chemicals in the air at some work environments. So, this is why doctors encourage smoking cessation. It’s why they talk about making changes in your life to prevent the progression of COPD.
How will learning about genes lead to a cure?
Your gene code acts like a cook book. It contains recipes for making your body. Each gene makes a protein. Each protein tells a cell in your body to do something. For example, some genes make proteins called cytokines. A couple cytokines responsible for COPD are TNF-a and IL8. They cause inflammation in COPD. Researchers aim to learn more about the genes that make them. Then, they hope to develop medicines to block their effects. The hope is that such medicines will help COPDers breathe easier every day. The long-term goal is that this research will some day lead to a cure.
What to make of this?
Researchers have come a long way in a short amount of time. They are studying our disease over time. So, hang in there! Take comfort in knowing that researchers have you in mind as they get up each morning and head for the lab. Their short term goal is a discovery to help you obtain better COPD control. Their long-term goal is to find that cure.