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UArizona researching personalized treatments for COPD

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Posted at 7:05 AM, Apr 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-06 10:05:50-04

Diseases linked to cigarette smoke and pollution may be increasing amid the pandemic.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), mainly caused by smoking cigarette smoke and pollution, is the third leading cause of death in the world. Dr. Francesca Polverino, a professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, is trying to find a way of treating it by looking specifically at emphysema.

“We are trying to establish a clinical phenotype that can be treated and we're trying to figure out whether, in this particular subset of people, we can use an immune therapy against their you know their anti b cells and antibodies,” said Polverino.

Her research team was granted $3.3 million by the National Institutes of Health to study b cells and find an official treatment or a cure. As of now, she says, there is no way to slow down COPD.

“Because right now these therapies do not change the course of the disease people still die of COPD. They just treat the symptoms but they do not slow down the progression of the disease,” said Polverino.

Polverino says the prevalence of COPD in the United States was declining over the years, due in part to many locations not allowing cigarette smoking. But amid the pandemic and folks staying home, she says people started smoking more and she expects COPD rates to rise again in the states.

“In developed countries smoke is the main cause, but we have in other he, for example in South America or in China or in India, the gases, the environmental pollution can be also another big cause of emphysema,” said Polverino.

But Polverino says her predictions have not been fully studied yet. Researchers still don’t know the exact role the pandemic may have on those with COPD from cigarette smoke.

But nonetheless, she does have this warning. “I know that this pandemic can be set illogical very challenging but we are seeing an increased rate of emphysema and COPD in the last two years, because of people smoking again you. The United States has done an amazing job with stopping people from smoking, you know with all these regulations. So please do not go back, let's go back to 10 and 20 years ago.”

The National Institutes of Health grant will be awarded to Polverino and her research over a five-year period.