JAN 10, 2020 5:56 AM PST

Using cancer drugs to treat COPD

Certain cancer treatments may be used effectively to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to new research published recently in eLife Sciences from a team of scientists at the University of Sheffield.

COPD is a disease that impacts respiration and quality of life for over 1.2 million people in the UK. Symptoms include breathlessness, coughing and frequent chest infections and as it develops slowly, many people may not receive a diagnosis until it is already quite advanced. COPD results from inflammation triggered by a certain kind of immune cell called neutrophils which damage the lungs.

However, the fact that COPD is driven by an inflammatory response means that it could potentially be treated with a range of preexisting drugs that are already used to treat inflammatory responses in cancer. When researchers from Sheffield’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease looked into this, they found several compounds that target neutrophil cells by inhibiting cell signaling processes that control the death-rate of the harmful neutrophils.

"Our research now shows that inhibitors of these cell signaling processes, or ErbB kinases, could have therapeutic potential in neutrophilic inflammatory disease. The hope of these drugs is that they can clear the damaging cells from the lungs of people living with COPD, preventing any further damage and therefore the progression of the disease for the first time," explains Dr. Lynne Prince, Russell Fellow at the University of Sheffield.

COPD affects quality of life for those with the disease. Photo: Pixabay

Dr. Prince continued, explaining "COPD is usually treated with steroids and airway muscle relaxants which ease symptoms, but there is currently no effective treatment clinically available to counteract the damage it does to the lungs.” The University’s Professor Stephen Renshaw added on, lamenting "We are in desperate need of a new treatment for COPD, millions of people all over the world live with the disease and it has a massive impact on their quality of life, especially as the disease progresses. What is exciting about this research is that these drug compounds are available now, which means if our continued research can effectively find a lead compound to benefit people living with COPD, they are ready to use. As neutrophilic inflammation is also central to the progression of other chronic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, the research has the potential to impact not only people living with COPD. Our next step is to find a way to test these drugs in people with COPD to understand how the ErbB kinase signaling process has an effect on lung inflammation and to address any potential side effects."

A further excitement that the team discovered shows that it is possible to reduce inflammation even more by editing the genes that encode the cell signaling.

Sources: eLife Sciences, Science Daily

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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