Healthbeat Report: Device could help emphysema patients

August 27, 2009 There are millions of Americans right now struggling to catch their breath after doing something as simple as combing their hair or washing the dishes. They have emphysema. For many, the chance to breathe easier would involve major surgery. But an alternative treatment that involves plugging instead of cutting is showing promise.

Pam Taylor spends a lot of her day talking.

It may be hard to tell but the outgoing 51-year-old dispatcher has emphysema.

"It feels like somebody has grabbed you buy the throat and you don't have anymore air and you have to wait to get your breath," said Taylor.

Pam, a former smoker, met with a lung transplant team and was offered lung reduction surgery to help ease her discomfort. Cutting up or removing her lungs were treatments she was not willing to do.

Then she found out about this device that looks more like a tiny umbrella than a treatment for emphysema.

"So the experimental device is based on the principal of instead of cutting out lung what if we found a way to sort of isolate it," said Dr. Kyle Hogarth , Pulmonologist, University of Chicago Medical Center.

It's called an intra bronchial valve or IBV for short. It's placed into the airways of the diseased lung by a catheter inserted through the mouth. That means no surgery, no cutting and that less invasive option was right up Pam's alley. She's now part of a study to help test the device at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

The valve is supposed to redirect air flow from diseased portions of the lung to healthier areas.

"It's actually an amazing piece of engineering because when it comes in it's folded up. It looks s like an umbrella when you put it in, pops out and fills up and it's very, very neat technology," said Dr. Hogarth.

Emphysema is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder or COPD. It is an incurable and progressive lung disease. The most common cause is smoking. But it can be treated.

What happens is the air sacs in the lung are damaged depriving the body of oxygen. That's where the valve comes in and several may need to be put in each lung. They can expand and contract with breathing to deflect air away from the diseased parts to the healthy areas. The lungs should function more efficiently helping patients breath easier.

"If it works, it is going to revolutionize what we can do for people who have to suffer with emphysema," said Dr. Hogarth.

As part of the study, Pam has no idea if she actually got the valves during her procedure. But she says she's feeling better and able to function without struggling for each breath.

"I can take a shower I can brush my hair I can get dressed, all in one shot," said Taylor.

The treatment is only used in patients with disease in the upper lobes of their lungs. Researchers say another plus to the vales is that they can be removed if the therapy doesn't work or is causing any trouble. It is still being investigated and has not yet been approved by the FDA.

Dr. Kyle Hogarth
University of Chicago Medical Center

For information on the IBV trial, contact Irena Garic 773.834.7081 or 773.834.LUNG

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