Associate Director at the Centre for Heart Lung Innovation
University of British Columbia
Using new micro X-ray imaging to detect how airways get damaged by smoking
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is currently the fourth leading cause of death in Canada and is the only disease where mortality rates continue to climb. This is due to Canada's aging population being at greater risk of developing COPD, as the “Baby Boomer” generation grew up when smoking rates were at their peak. Smoking is the number one risk factor for COPD.
Unfortunately, there are no cures for COPD, which makes the disease so deadly. People with COPD have difficulty breathing as their airways – the tubes that carry air in and out of the lung - become partially blocked and damaged. The structural cells that line the airway tubes respond to smoke exposure by promoting inflammation and thickening of the airways, termed fibrosis.
“Our research is focused on understanding how these cells respond to smoke and promote fibrosis in 20-30 per cent of individuals who smoke,” says Dr. Tillie-Louise Hackett, of the James Hogg Research Centre at the University of British Columbia, who has received a two-year grant from the British Columbia Lung Association.
“The goal of our study is to determine if we can detect airways that are damaged or undergoing scarring (fibrosis) in the lungs of patients with mild COPD using new micro X-ray imaging techniques. This will enable us to identify early on which patients will develop progressive and life threatening disease, so that clinical interventions can be applied to change patient outcomes,” says Dr. Hackett. “This should lead to measures to protect Canadians exposed directly or indirectly to smoke exposure.”