Do you ever have trouble climbing the stairs? Many people mistake their increased breathlessness as a normal part of aging, but it may in fact be caused by Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which affects the lives of 3.7 million Canadians each year. It is now understood that COPD can develop over many years as a result of exposure to smoking or inhaled pollutants. COPD has no cure – but if caught early, it can be managed. That is why it is important to talk to your doctor as soon as you notice any symptoms such as breathlessness, tightness of the chest or chronic cough.
To raise awareness about COPD and improve COPD patient care, today, November 15th, is World COPD day, which is organized by the Global Initiative for COPD in collaboration with health care professionals and COPD patients around the world.
Luckily for COPD patients in BC, we have the brightest clinicians and scientists working right here in our province at The Centre for Heart Lung Innovation (HLI) at St. Paul’s Hospital. Since its initiation in 1977, led by Dr. James Hogg (Order of Canada) and Dr. Peter Paré, the HLI has been making giant leaps in the understanding of COPD. The HLI is #1 for COPD research in Canada, and #3 in the world. Over the course of their careers, Drs. Hogg and Paré have described much of what we understand about the pathology and genetics of COPD. Importantly, working together with patients, clinicians and surgeons at St. Paul’s Hospital in those early, formative years, Drs. Hogg and Paré recognized the importance of collecting human lung samples from patients with respiratory diseases like COPD in order to understand disease processes.
The James Hogg Lung Registry (Biobank), now managed by Dr. Tillie-Louise Hackett, is one of the largest in the world with 120,000 samples from over 6,000 patients. Dr. Hackett’s research uses advanced imaging techniques, such as micro computed tomography (CT), to characterize changes in the lungs of patients with mild COPD. The hope is that a better understanding of early disease changes at the microscale can lead to the development of therapeutics that prevent the disease process. The Lung Registry is not only a source of samples for investigators at the HLI, but also for hundreds of scientists from around the world. To find out more, visit https://www.hli.ubc.ca/service/lung-tissue-registry.
Clinical care is an important priority of the HLI. Canada’s foremost expert on COPD (ranked by Expertscape.com) Dr. Don Sin leads the Pacific Lung Health Centre dedicated to the care of patients with lung disease. Together with Dr. Paul Man, their goal is to discover biological markers, or “biomarkers”, in a simple blood test that can be used to quickly diagnose early “lung attacks”– bouts of severe symptom worsening – which cause the majority of COPD-related hospitalizations. Also at the Pacific Lung Heath Centre are clinicians Dr. Wan Tan and Dr. Janice Leung. Dr. Tan hosts the only population-based COPD patient cohort in the world, CanCOLD (Canadian Cohort of Obstructive Lung Disease), which is a multi-centre study of the COPD population across Canada. Dr. Harvey Coxson’s lab is the core image analysis facility for the CanCOLD Study. CanCOLD was instrumental in demonstrating that COPD is greatly underdiagnosed in Canada and 4 times more prevalent than previously estimated. To find out more, visit http://cancold.ca/en/copd.html. Dr. Leung is investigating the connection between HIV and COPD. People with HIV develop COPD at a greater rate and younger age than the general population. For more information about the Pacific Lung Health Centre, visit http://pacificlung.ca/.
Through the research performed at the HLI, it is understood that pulmonary rehabilitation, or in other words, exercise, is critical to improve the quality of life of COPD patients. Dr. Pat Camp leads the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Research Laboratory which focuses on improving the physical activity of individuals with COPD. She is also working on developing eHealth technology for pulmonary rehabilitation, especially for First Nations communities in remote and rural areas of BC. To find out more or to participate in a study, please visit http://prrl.rehab.med.ubc.ca/.
Dr. Jordan Guenette leads the Cardiopulmonary Exercise Physiology Laboratory. The goal of this research is to develop more effective treatments to manage breathlessness and improve quality of life for individuals with chronic respiratory diseases. To find out more about Dr. Guenette’s research or to participate in a study, please visit http://cpep.rehab.med.ubc.ca/
If you or someone you know has concerns about your lung health and think you could be suffering from COPD, please consider participating in our research. Together we can fight for better diagnosis and treatment of this debilitating disease.
By Dr. Katherine Celler and Dr. Tillie-Louise Hackett