New test could identify smokers at risk of emphysema

Apr 06, 2010
University of Iowa researchers have shown that CT scans measuring blood flow in the lungs can detect early emphysema-related changes that occur in smokers who are susceptible to the disease. This image shows the lungs of a patient who smokes and has very early signs of emphysema. Credit: University of Iowa

Using CT scans to measure blood flow in the lungs of people who smoke may offer a way to identify which smokers are most at risk of emphysema before the disease damages and eventually destroys areas of the lungs, according to a University of Iowa study.

The study found that smokers who have very subtle signs of , but still have normal , have very different patterns in their lungs compared to non-smokers and smokers without signs of emphysema.

This difference could be used to identify smokers at increased risk of emphysema and allow for early intervention. The findings appear this week in the Early Edition of the .

"We have developed a new tool to detect early emphysema-related changes that occur in smokers who are susceptible to the disease," said lead study author Eric Hoffman, Ph.D., UI professor of radiology, internal medicine and biomedical engineering. "Our discovery may also help researchers understand the underlying causes of this disease and help distinguish this type of emphysema from other forms of . This type of could even be a tool to test the effectiveness of new therapies by looking at the changes in lung blood flow."

As many as 24 million Americans have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) -- a group of serious lung diseases that includes emphysema -- and COPD is the fourth leading cause of death nationwide. Because COPD is a group of different diseases, identifying more effective treatments may hinge on distinguishing between these diseases and targeting them separately.

The team used multi-detector row CT imaging to measure blood flow patterns in the lungs of 41 study participants -- 17 non-smokers and 24 smokers. All the participants had normal lung function, but 12 of the smokers had very subtle signs of emphysema. The CT scans showed that these 12 individuals had the most disrupted patterns of blood flow compared to the other participants.

The findings also support the idea that abnormal blood flow occurs before emphysema develops.

"Although the underlying causes of emphysema are not well understood, smoking increases the risk of developing the disease," Hoffman said. "Our study suggests that some smokers have an abnormal response to inflammation in their lungs; instead of sending more blood to the inflamed areas to help repair the damage, blood flow is turned off and the inflamed areas deteriorate."

The cellular pathway that turns off blood flow is helpful when an area of the lung has become permanently blocked and cannot be rescued. In that case, the lung "optimizes gas exchange" and stops supplying the area with blood. However, lung inflammation caused by smoking can be resolved and resultant damage repaired by increased blood flow, which brings oxygen and helpful cellular components to the site of injury.

This study suggests that the ability to distinguish when to turn off or when to ramp up blood flow is defective in some people -- probably due to genetic differences. If this genetic difference is coupled with smoking, which increases lung inflammation, that could increase the risk of developing emphysema.

Explore further: Pollutants from coal-burning stoves strongly associated with miscarriages in Mongolia

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researchers show link between lung disease and heart function

Jan 20, 2010

A new study from Columbia University Medical Center researchers, has found that the heart's ability to pump effectively is diminished among people with a common lung disease, even in people with no or mild symptoms. Published ...

Genetic variant may control lung function and risk of COPD

Dec 17, 2009

Researchers have discovered evidence that suggests a genetic variant may be associated with better preserved lung function among children with asthma and adults who smoke, according to a new study funded by the National Heart, ...

Recommended for you

Sensors may keep hospitalized patients from falling

4 hours ago

(Medical Xpress)—To keep hospitalized patients safer, University of Arizona researchers are working on new technology that involves a small, wearable sensor that measures a patient's activity, heart rate, ...

Rising role seen for health education specialists

6 hours ago

(HealthDay)—A health education specialist can help family practices implement quality improvement projects with limited additional financial resources, according to an article published in the March/April ...

FDA proposes first regulations for e-cigarettes (Update)

6 hours ago

The U.S. government wants to ban sales of electronic cigarettes to minors and require approval for new products and health warning labels under regulations being proposed by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

User comments : 0

More news stories

New breast cancer imaging method promising

The new PAMmography method for imaging breast cancer developed by the University of Twente's MIRA research institute and the Medisch Spectrum Twente hospital appears to be a promising new method that could ...

Breast cancer replicates brain development process

New research led by a scientist at the University of York reveals that a process that forms a key element in the development of the nervous system may also play a pivotal role in the spread of breast cancer.

Research proves nanobubbles are superstable

The intense research interest in surface nanobubbles arises from their potential applications in microfluidics and the scientific challenge for controlling their fundamental physical properties. One of the ...

Using antineutrinos to monitor nuclear reactors

When monitoring nuclear reactors, the International Atomic Energy Agency has to rely on input given by the operators. In the future, antineutrino detectors may provide an additional option for monitoring. ...