By Dr. Maria Simbra


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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Margie Hudson had a hard time carrying things, speaking, housework – simple everyday activities.

“Getting dressed some days is a major nightmare. You have to sit down. And I’m like, I’m not that old,” she says.

Margie has COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This lung condition would interfere with her volunteer work at the Jeannette Historic Society.

She tried inhalers and medicines. But her symptoms were getting worse because of bronchitis and too much mucus, a part of the disease that is hard to treat.

“As time went on, I couldn’t walk as far,” she continues.

She ended up in a clinical trial at UPMC. The doctors said they were going to shock her lungs.

“They told me I would be the first person in the United States to have this done,” she says. “I was scared to death.”

(Photo Credit: UPMC)

With COPD, certain cells in the airway lining called goblet cells are overabundant and produce too much mucus.

In the study, participants are put under general anesthesia. The expandable mesh instrument is passed down into the lung through a scope. All the surface cells get touched as it is slowly backed out of the lung. Without anesthesia, it would feel like strong static.

“It’s not an inflammatory response, it’s not a heat response. It just causes loss of integrity of the membrane, and the cells die,” says Dr. Frank Sciurba, a lung specialist at UPMC.

When the lining grows back, within a week, there are fewer goblet cells and less mucus.

“This is the type of treatment that conceivably could be repeated if the symptoms come back,” Dr. Sciurba adds.

To qualify, participants must have moderate symptoms by questionnaire, and cannot have other explanations for their breathing problems, heart issues, or other severe illnesses.

The doctors monitor quality of life, breathing tests, x-rays, and biopsies with careful note of any good or bad effects.

“When you biopsy it, there’s far fewer the mucus cells,” Dr. Sciurba says.

In similar trials in other countries no bad effects have been noted. Of course, larger controlled studies will be needed before this would be FDA approved.

“I’m proud that we are involved in really leading the field in personalized medicine. In designing specific treatments for different patients, rather than just giving a bronchdilator to everybody,” says Dr. Sciurba.

Margie had her right lung done first, and after about a week of constant coughing, she and others noticed a clear difference.

“I picked up my great-niece the other day. And I haven’t been able to do that since she was born,” Margie says. “People started noticing I could walk farther. I didn’t even notice it at first. It just sort of happened. They don’t know how long it’s going to last. We’re hoping for a lot of years. It didn’t cure me, but it made me feel a lot better.”

Viewers can contact the UPMC Emphysema/COPD Research Center at 866-948-COPD (2673) or email is ecrc@upmc.edu.

Dr. Maria Simbra