It is a disease that leaves people coughing and gasping for breath, regardless of available treatment options, but a study by University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Health researchers is trialling new and promising clinical therapies for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD).
According to chief investigator Associate Professor Vanessa McDonald, from the UON’s School of Nursing and Midwfery, the Mi-COPD trial represents a paradigm shift towards personalised management of the disease, rather than being “one size fits all”.
“Clinicians currently take a blanket approach to treating COPD so in this study we look at what’s going on in the individual patient and we target the specific inflammatory processes,” Associate Professor McDonald said.
“We are using a number of treatments to see how effective they might be in a COPD population. One is the drug Prednisone, the second is a statin that comes from a cardiovascular background, and the third is an antibiotic being used for its anti-inflammatory properties.”
With participants randomised for the double-blind controlled trial, some receive placebo tablets while maintaining their usual care regime. Those in the intervention group receive up to three active tablets based on their disease subtype.
The study comes in the wake of a hospital admissions report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in 2013 which found that the Hunter is a hotspot for COPD.
“There are no boundaries on our study – we can draw from as far as people are willing to travel,” Associate Professor McDonald added. “It involves monthly visits and phone calls for six months, and at the end of the treatment we follow up participants again at 12 and 18 months.”
Mi-COPD eligibility requires people to have had a COPD flare-up in the previous 12 months and a smoking history. Previous and existing participants are reporting immediate health and wellbeing benefits.
Toronto resident Mrs Joan Cumming, who has battled pneumonia and been hospitalised eight times since 2012, says she felt totally well during her recent six-month trial journey.
“I was so terribly ill with one lung infection after another,” the 67-year-old grandmother said. “If it hadn’t been for the ambulance, the hospital and the research team, I wouldn’t be here today. I cannot show them enough gratitude.
“The research is actually saving lives – I can’t stipulate that point enough. And now that they’ve improved my health I’m not going to hospital all the time, I’m not cluttering up a bed.”
Cessnock’s William Martin, 73, has a long family history of chest problems, with his own COPD exacerbated by smoking and working as an electrician among dust and roof insulation fibres.
“It got so bad that I started to feel I’d be better off if I wasn’t here,” Mr Martin said. “I’m on tablets for depression now and seeing a psychologist – that’s how it can affect you.
“I’m still on the trial and, whether it’s the medication doing the job, I’m feeling a lot better and not losing my breath like I was.”
COPD patients interested in enrolling in the trial can contact Amber.Smith@newcastle.edu.au or phone (02) 4042 0134.
To mark World COPD Day on Wednesday, November 19, community members are invited to the HMRI Building for lectures on lung health, nutrition and physical activity. People can speak with respiratory leader Professor Peter Gibson and Associate Professors Vanessa McDonald, Christopher Grainge and Lisa Wood. There will be tours of the Clinical Trials Centre with lung function tests and other activities.
Vanessa McDonald is an Associate Professor in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at the University of Newcastle. She is a practising clinician in the Department of Respiratory and Sleep Medicine at John Hunter Hospital, and a research leader with HMRI’s VIVA program and the University of Newcastle’s Priority Research Centre for Asthma & Respiratory Disease. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.