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sector_ico_Health_trans Human Health

Relationship between external and internal microbiomes in normal and compromised airways

  • Project Leaders: Christopher Carlsten, Janice Leung
  • Institutions: University of British Columbia (UBC)
  • Budget: $245772
  • Program/Competition: Sector Innovation Program
  • Genome Centre(s): Genome British Columbia
  • Fiscal Year: 2018
  • Status: Closed

Nearly 1 in 20 Canadians suffer from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a type of chronic airway inflammation that can significantly restrict physical activity. COPD can be managed through medication; however, medications neither provide a cure nor prolong life expectancy. COPD remains the 4th leading cause of death in Canada with an annual cost of $600 million to British Columbia.

Patients need additional therapeutic options, and non-pharmaceutical alternatives may reduce the financial burden on the health care system. Understanding the relationship between the microbial communities ("microbiome") in a patient’s lungs and their environment is a promising area of research that could present environmental modifications as a potential treatment option.

This study, led by Drs. Chris Carlsten and Janice Leung of the University of British Columbia, is the first to understand the relationship between bacteria and fungi in the air in a patient’s home with the bacteria and fungi in their lungs. They have found that Vancouver has distinct air bacteria and fungi compared to other locations in the world. In particular, one fungus called Aspergillus fumigatus can be found in the air and the more of this fungus there is in the air, the more likely a patient with COPD will have an acute lung attack with worsening symptoms. Reducing Aspergillus fumigatus found in a home’s circulating air may be a new way to fight worsening COPD. The results imply that easy-to-implement changes to an environment could improve the lives of COPD patients and reduce health care costs. More studies are needed to explore these further.