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Blood test helps COPD patients breathe easier

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.

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.

Presently there is no advance warning for the 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.

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.