What is the focus of your research?
My research interests include finding new solutions to reduce the growing burden of COPD and new therapies to treat COPD-related co-morbidities such as cardiovascular disease.
COPD is the fourth-leading cause of death in Canada and the number-one cause of hospital admissions. On average, patients remain in hospital for 10 days at a cost of $10,000 per patient, with the total amount cost of such hospitalizations estimated to be more than $2 billion. And yet, despite being one of the most common lung diseases, COPD frequently remains undetected due to inadequate diagnostic tools.
Part of the problem is that while COPD is characterized by shortness of breath, coughing and phlegm production, the underlying changes to the lungs begin many years before patients begin to experience symptoms and right now there’s no effective way to identify COPD in the early stages, nor to test disease intensity or activity. As a result, there are many people with COPD who go undiagnosed, and those who are diagnosed all receive the same treatment no matter what stage in the progression of their disease they might be in.
Describe a research project you’re working on now.
We’re working to develop and implement a simple blood test to diagnose lung attacks—the main reasons for hospitalizations and deaths related to COPD—at their earliest stages. By enabling early intervention with effective therapies that already exist, this approach has tremendous potential to reduce patient symptoms and prevent hospitalizations and deaths.
What has been one of the most influential discoveries in COPD research?
We’ve discovered that bronchodilators are effective and safe therapies to improve lung function, reduce symptoms and lower the risk of exacerbations in COPD patients. We have also discovered that COPD is a risk factor (i.e. gateway) for other common diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer. The overall human impact of COPD is enormous.
What do we need to learn in order to better understand this disease?
COPD is a heterogeneous disease with many different “faces.” It is unlikely that we will find one solution that fits all. Our biggest challenge is unraveling these different faces of COPD and understanding their molecular mechanisms. Then, we will be able to design new biomarkers and new therapies to reduce the growing burden of COPD in Canada and elsewhere.
What do you see as the future directions of COPD research?
COPD research will continue to grow in size and scope. It is clear that small, one-lab research programs will not be adequate to address the important questions in COPD. Furthermore, the traditional “silos’ of research in COPD will become increasingly obsolete. Researchers from all four health research pillars – basic biomedical, clinical, health services and population health – will work in large projects that will be truly translational and impactful on patient care.
Dr. Don Sin
Dr. Don Sin is Canada Research Chair in COPD and Head, Division of Respiratory Medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital. He was recently ranked as the second leading COPD expert in the world by Expertscape.com, a medical search and ranking website that ranks physicians, clinicians and researchers worldwide using a PubMed-based algorithm. The BC Lung Association has provided funding in support of Dr. Sin’s ground-breaking work in COPD research.