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First UK patients get pioneering new treatment for serious lung disease

11 July 2016

A new, cutting-edge treatment for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has been carried out by experts at Royal Brompton and Chelsea and Westminster hospitals in London as part of a research trial.

The minimally-invasive procedure, which takes up to an hour, is being carried out by consultant respiratory physician Dr Pallav Shah, as part of the international AIRFLOW-1 clinical trial. It is currently being tested on patients with moderate to severe COPD.

COPD is an umbrella term for a collection of conditions causing lung damage, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and affects around three million people in the UK.

The new procedure uses electrodes to destroy branches of the vagus nerve in the lungs, known to be responsible for muscle contraction and mucus secretion, which result in narrowing and obstructions in the airways. In patients with COPD these nerves are overactive, usually as a result of damage caused by smoking, and the constant mucus secretion and airway obstruction leads to symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, wheeze and tightness of the chest.

By blocking the actions of the vagus nerve in the lung, it is hoped that patients’ symptoms, lung function and quality of life will be improved. Experts hope that the one-off treatment, known as targeted lung denervation (TLD), will have permanent benefits and may replace the need for the long-term use of anticholinergic drugs, which are often prescribed for patients with COPD.

Dr Shah explains: “Treating the nerves in this way blocks their actions more efficiently than anticholinergic inhalers, which only work temporarily, can have an irregular distribution within the lungs and may cause side-effects such as blurred vision and urine retention in a small number of patients."

This procedure keeps obstructed airways open to improve breathing and has the potential to provide a permanent improvement for all patients with COPD.

The first patient to receive the novel treatment said: “I was noticeably less breathless immediately after having the treatment. Now I can go shopping and walk around normally for the first time in years – it feels like a miracle. I’m still pinching myself because I can’t quite believe it, I’m over the moon."

Royal Brompton Hospital offers a world class, multidisciplinary COPD service, both to patients in the local community and to patients from all over the country.

Find out more about the Trust's COPD services.

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