Patients suffering from lung diseases may benefit from a newly developed coil implant that can help improve their ability to do exercises as well as their overall quality of life.

In a study featured in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh described how a new minimally invasive treatment can be used as an alternative to lung-reduction surgery for people diagnosed with the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) known as emphysema.

The therapy makes use of tiny metal coils that are inserted into the lungs of patients using a scope. These coils are designed to help open the patient's healthy airways and tighten tissues affected by the disease.

Lead author Prof. Frank Sciurba explained that some patients diagnosed with advanced forms of emphysema only have a few options when it comes to their treatment. The recent study is aimed at exploring the potential of minimally invasive therapy for lung volume reduction as a plausible option for these patients.

Emphysema patients typically suffer from an over-inflation of their lungs, which severely limits their ability to take deep breaths. This in turn causes the air sacs in their lungs to gradually deteriorate and their airways to collapse over time.

Sciurba said the coils they have developed can help enhance the elasticity of lungs in order to prevent airways from collapsing. Patients who receive the implants will be able to exhale better and more completely.

The researchers conducted a trial of the novel therapy on 315 patients from 26 different sites in Europe and the United States. It was carried out from December 2012 to November 2015.

The team randomly assigned the participants to receive either standard care, which consists of a combination of pulmonary rehabilitation and the use of optimal inhaler drugs, or standard care with the insertion of coil implants in severely affected areas of the patients' lungs.

While patients who received standard care only showed a decline in their function over a 12-month period, those who were given coil implants experienced a modest improvement in their walking distance.

By the time the researchers conducted a follow-up on the patients one year later, those who received coil implants were able to walk 15 meters (49 feet) farther in six minutes compared to those in the standard care-only group.

Despite the modest improvement in the patients' lung function, exercise ability and overall quality of life, the researchers note that these individuals have been shown to be more likely to develop major complications as well.

Sciurba and his colleagues are now awaiting the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) decision on whether the coil implants are ready to be used on a larger scale.

Photo: Yale Rosen | Flickr 

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