December 04, 2013
Vancouver, BC – Two BC researchers have combined forces to develop a blood test that will identify patients at high risk for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) lung attacks. This much needed test will help medical professionals provide better treatment and ultimately lead to patients with fewer attacks, and reduced hospitalization and emergency visits.
By the end of their four-year, $7.2 million research project, funded in part by Genome BC, Drs Don Sin and Raymond Ng hope to have the blood test ready to identify patients at high risk for ‘lung attacks’, as well as be able to differentiate these attacks from other conditions. Ultimately, their goal is to ensure that patients who need preventative drugs will receive them, resulting in fewer attacks and significantly reducing the burden on the health care system. At the same time, patients at low risk of an attack will be able to avoid unnecessary drugs and their potential side effects.
COPD is a progressive disease that is characterized by loss of lung function, leading to breathlessness, poor quality of life, loss in productivity and increased mortality. According to most recent Statistics Canada figures, COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in Canada and the leading cause of hospital admissions. The disease is a burden on the healthcare system: patients require hospital admissions that average a 10-day length of stay at a cost of $10,000 per stay. The total cost of COPD hospitalizations alone is estimated to be over $2 billion a year.
Presently there is no advance warning for these severe lung attacks that exacerbate the condition. If caught early enough―or, better yet, prevented―these attacks can be effectively treated with medication. Unfortunately, many lung attack symptoms can resemble pneumonia, heart attacks or even the flu.
“As a clinician, I see patients on a daily basis who suffer from COPD,” says Dr. Don Sin,Canadian Research Chair in COPD, professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia and a respirologist at St. Paul’s Hospital. “At present we blindly treat all patients the same way regardless of how active their disease is because we have no test that can tell us about disease intensity or activity. This research will help us find a simple blood test that can provide critical information about disease activity and hence guide rational treatment therapies for patients”.
Over 1,000 patient samples are already being investigated, as researchers are using genomics to begin identifying which biomarkers provide the molecular signature to indicate disease activity. The biomarkers will identify patients at high risk for lung attacks (i.e. those with high disease activity) and just as importantly, differentiate these attacks from other conditions.
“With our experienced team of computer and data scientists applying state-of-the-art tools to process and mine the data required, we are confident that the biomarker-based blood tests will be developed and ready to move into clinical use in the next few years,” says Raymond Ng, Chief Informatics Officer at the PROOF Centre of Excellence.
“BC is fortunate to have a talented pool of researchers working in the area of genomics,” said Terry Lake, Minister of Health. “This project is an example of valuable research, supported by organizations such as Genome BC, that has the potential to help the over 100,000 British Columbians living with COPD lead healthier lives.”
“COPD is a burdensome disease that is outstripping our ability to keep up with the therapeutic and clinical demands,” says Dr. Alan Winter, President and CEO of Genome BC. “Investing in research that will provide a tangible, practical tool for physicians and improve patient outcomes is one of the major goals for Genome BC and we look forward to watching the progress of this significant project.”
The research project, entitled Clinical Implementation and Outcomes Evaluation of Blood-Based Biomarkers for COPD Management is also funded by Genome Canada, the PROOF Centre of Excellence, the St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation and Genome Quebec.
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a long-lasting respiratory disorder that causes the airways of the lungs to be inflamed and become “obstructed”. The two major forms of the disease include chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
- Those suffering from COPD usually experience shortness of breath, long-lasting coughs, and sputum production. COPD gradually deprive individuals of their breath, health and vitality, and affects their quality of life. Up to 79% of Canadians with COPD avoid everyday activities.
- Hospital admissions for COPD lung attacks in Canada averaged a 10-day length of stay at a cost of more than $10,000 per stay. The total cost of COPD hospitalizations is estimated to be at $2 billion a year.
- COPD Canada’s fourth leading cause of death. The disease affects approximately 3 million Canadians, including 1.5 million patients who currently suffer from this disease and another 1.5 million undiagnosed patients.
- Patients who have a lung attack are twice as likely to die in the 12 months following a hospital stay than patients who have had a heart attack.
- Canadian COPD patients are well below the global average (55% versus 73%) for accessing health care services in response to a lung attack.
- The disease is especially prevalent among younger Canadian baby boomers – one in seven Canadians aged 45 to 49 (375,000) may have COPD.
- According to the latest estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2007, 210 million people currently have COPD and is the third leading cause of death worldwide.
- COPD poses a huge drain on health resources and carries a significant economic in Canada. It accounts for the highest rate of hospital admission and readmission among major chronic illnesses in the country. 18% of COPD patients were readmitted once within the year and 14% twice within the year.