The Latest in COPD Research

While it is certainly beneficial to folks like us (with COPD) to keep up with the latest news, treatments, suggestions, etc., it is sometimes difficult to “separate the wheat from the chaff,” as my grandfather used to say. In other words, there are genuine, proven advances taking place in medicine that will ultimately benefit a great deal of us as we struggle through our days and lives with COPD.

And oftentimes, there is downright B.S.

I don’t think that the last part needs any explaining, does it? But, let’s look at some medical happenings in our world.

Zephyr valves and COPD

There’s been a lot of talk lately (and a number of articles I’ve seen written) about Zephyr Valves and COPD. The Zephyr Endobronchial Valve device is a non-surgical treatment option for severe emphysema and general COPD.1 Physicians use a bronchoscope to carry out this procedure. It is used to looks inside the lung airways by inserting the tube, with its light and a small camera, through your nose or mouth, down your throat into your trachea, or windpipe. I tried to have this procedure performed once and gagged so severely, the technician immediately stopped. But it’s used to implant an average of four small, self-expanding one-way Zephyr valves to isolate the lungs’ diseased areas, allowing the healthier lung tissue to expand and take in more air.

The FDA approved Zephyr endobronchial valves in 2018. They were first evaluated in a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine in 2018.2 The study included 128 patients who were treated with endobronchial valves and compared them with 62 patients treated by the standard of care (bronchodilator therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation). At 12 months, 47.7 percent of valve recipients had significant improvements in their six-minute walk distances. But, the major side effect with endobronchial valve placement was a pneumothorax (collapsed lung), occurring in 27 percent of recipients, with 85 percent occurring within the first five days.

Stem cells and COPD

Stem cell-based treatments for COPD, also relatively new, have been creating quite a buzz as well; some good and some not-so-good. Dr. Michael J. Holtzman, MD the director of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, recently received close to $7.5 million from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in research funding to continue studying stem cells. Holtzman’s prior research identified a subset of stem cells that line the airways and help drive mucus production in the lungs.

These stem cells can activate immune cells that promote inflammation and respond to inflammation by turning into mucus-producing cells. Controlling the mechanism that reprograms stem cells toward disease is a major goal of his new grant. “Stem cells that give rise to mucous cells lining the airway and other sites are part of our immune defense strategy,” said Holtzman.2 The problem is, stem cell therapy is still frowned upon in many quarters of the COPD treatment world.

In fact, in October 2015, the COPD Foundation released a statement that essentially said, “The COPD Foundation does not recommend the use of autologous stem cell therapy in the treatment of COPD or other lung diseases until there is more rigorous scientific and medical proof of its effectiveness.”3

It never hurts to ask

I’m personally excited to find out what will happen during this year’s Stanford Medicine X | CHANGE Conference. The Dorney-Koppel Foundation has spotlighted COPD at the conference which began in September and will continue until December of this year.

Koppel is former ABC News anchor Ted Koppel and Dorney Koppel is his wife. “Thirty million people in this country have COPD,” Koppel said. “Twelve to 15 million of these people have not yet been diagnosed, and about 165,000 Americans die of this disease every year. That is more than all the Americans who died in Korea and Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan put together.”4

I do not personally know anyone taking advantage of these procedures. And it’s not up to us but to our physicians to decide what might be beneficial to us in our treatments and what might be harmful. But – it NEVER hurts to ask.

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