Wednesday, October 10, 2007

News! Brigham and Women’s and National Jewish Awarded $37 Million for Largest Study to Date to Identify Genes that Influence the Development of COPD

I came home from a fabulous fall weekend getaway to find this intriguing news.

Boston, MA – Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver have been awarded a $37 million grant from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) to lead the most comprehensive study of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) ever undertaken. The multi-institutional study will seek to identify the genetic, epidemiological and radiological characteristics of COPD, with a long-term goal of better understanding the disease and finding more effective treatments.

“Our goal with this massive project is to discover genes responsible for this chronic lung disease and to develop a comprehensive data sharing plan so that this study will become a national resource for the scientific community,” said Edwin Silverman, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine at BWH and co-principal investigator of the study.

The 16 clinical study centers involved will enroll a total of 10,500 participants, 3,500 of whom will be African American, a population whose COPD rates are rapidly growing and whose risk factors have not been adequately studied.

COPD is an umbrella term for a variety of progressive lung diseases, most commonly emphysema and chronic bronchitis, which damage lung tissue and make it difficult to breathe. Cigarette smoking causes the vast majority of COPD cases, but breathing in other kinds of lung irritants may also cause the disease. COPD is the only leading case of death in the US that has been steadily increasing in frequency over the past decade and unfortunately, there is no treatment that can cure the disease, rather only a few measures to extend the lives of patients.

“COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, and yet we know so little about the disease,” said James Crapo, MD, professor of medicine at National Jewish and co-principal investigator of the study. “This study will help us determine which smokers are most at risk of developing the disease, who is most likely to have progressive disease and how to more effectively treat it.”

A mutation in the alpha-1 antitrypsin gene accounts for about one to two percent of COPD cases, but researchers hypothesize other genetic factors are likely involved. In a previous study of severe, early-onset COPD patients without alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency, Silverman and colleagues at BWH found that close relatives, like parent-child, who smoke cigarettes have a three-fold increased risk of developing the disease compared to smokers from the general population. Nonsmoking relatives did not have this increased risk.

The new study will enroll smokers with and without COPD. Study participants with COPD will donate a sample of blood for DNA analysis and will undergo a single study visit that will include pulmonary function tests, questionnaires about respiratory and general health, a six-minute walk test, a physical examination and a chest CT scan. After study participation, phone and mail contacts will be conducted with study participants every six months.

"The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute is excited to fund what will be the largest study ever of the genetics of COPD. Identifying genetic factors that contribute to this devastating disease will help us understand the biological mechanisms involved, and will ultimately lead to better treatments and improved outcomes for patients," said Elizabeth G. Nabel, MD, director of the NHLBI.

A team from Johns Hopkins University, the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), BWH and the University of Colorado will provide statistical analysis.

The NHLBI is promoting better awareness of COPD through its public education campaign, Learn More Breathe Better. For more information, visit

(click here for the full article on the BWH Website )

I am particularly interested in this study since I live reasonably close to Brigham and Women's Hospital. This study has the potential to significantly impact the COPD community And it offers participants the opportunity to have their disease scrutinized and then closely monitored.
I've emailed BWH for further info.