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. The test has the potential to give medical professionals a better treatment option and ultimately, could lead to patients with fewer attacks and could lead to 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 (pictured in featured image) and Raymond Ng (picture below) 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. Sin, a 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.
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.