Two UBC researchers are leading a $7.2 million project to develop a test identifying patients at risk for the debilitating and often deadly lung attacks brought on by Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in Canada and a leading cause of hospital admissions.
UBC's Don Sin, Canadian Research Chair in COPD, and UBC computer scientist Raymond Ng co-lead the $7.2 million project, which will help medical professionals provide better treatment and ultimately help reduce hospitalizations and emergency visits.
Presently there is no advance warning for the severe lung attacks that exacerbate COPD. If caught early enough these attacks can be effectively treated with medication. Unfortunately, many lung attack symptoms can resemble pneumonia, heart attacks or even the flu.
“As a clinician, I see patients on a daily basis who suffer from COPD,” says Sin, professor of medicine at UBC and a respirologist at St. Paul’s Hospital. “At present we blindly treat all patients the same way regardless of how active their disease is because we have no test that can tell us about the disease’s intensity or activity.”
Over 1,000 patient samples are already being investigated, with researchers using genomics to begin identifying which biomarkers provide the molecular signature to indicate disease activity. The biomarkers will identify patients at high risk for lung attacks and just as importantly, differentiate these attacks from other conditions.
“With our experienced team of computer and data scientists applying state-of-the-art tools to process and mine the data required, we are confident that the biomarker-based blood tests will be developed and ready to move into clinical use in the next few years,” says Ng, a leading expert in data mining and health informatics, and chief informatics officer at the Prevention of Organ Failure (PROOF) Centre of Excellence.
The work is being funded by Genome BC, Genome Canada, the PROOF Centre of Excellence, the St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation, and Genome Quebec.
COPD is a progressive disease that is characterized by loss of lung function, leading to breathlessness, poor quality of life, loss in productivity and increased mortality. The disease is a burden on the healthcare system: patients require hospital admissions that average a 10-days at a cost of $10,000 per stay. The total cost of COPD hospitalizations alone is estimated to be over $2 billion a year.