What’s Slowing Down COPD Research?

November is COPD Awareness Month, a time that COPD patients, caregivers and organizations promote better COPD treatment and the need for research.

Nearly 16 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with COPD. An additional 12 million people may have undiagnosed COPD. It’s the third leading cause of death in the United States.

High mortality rates and challenging drug side effects, such as weight gain and ulcers, show a need for improved treatments. Unfortunately, several barriers have slowed COPD research in the past and continue to present challenges for researchers today.

Lack of funding

COPD receives inadequate research funding in general, experts say. One reason may be that the condition mostly affects lower-income Americans who are less apt to vote and have less lobbying power. Another challenge is the underlying causes of the disease, some of which are generally stigmatized. Smoking, poor air quality, diet, and occupational environment are all known risk factors, but researchers don’t know why some smokers, for example, develop COPD and others don’t.

Because COPD has those unknowns, COPD clinical trials can also be challenging to recruit for. One study that investigated a potential new treatment had 3,000 volunteers participate for three years, but the treatment ultimately did not make a difference in mortality. Without knowing which segment of the COPD population a new treatment could help, it can be difficult to get backing for a new trial.

Personalized treatment

Like for other conditions such as lung cancer, researchers believe that a personalized approach may be the best option for COPD. To start, COPD itself is an umbrella term, including conditions like small airway disease and emphysema. Some people with COPD have a mix of asthma and COPD.

While the old approach of treating COPD focused on anti-inflammatories, a new approach aims to identify subpopulations of COPD to create effective treatments faster. The SubPopulations and InteRmediate Outcome Measures in COPD Study is looking for genetic, biomarker, and clinical data to identify different types of COPD patients.

Earlier detection

Earlier detection would also make a difference for COPD research and patients. Diagnosing more COPD patients could be as easy as using five simple questions and a peak expiratory flow meter test that could be given at a doctor’s appointment, according to a 2016 study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

COPD research has been slow to make progress, but increased awareness can help drive more research funding and clinical trial participation. If you or a loved one are living with COPD, you can help move research forward by participating in a clinical trial in your area. Search below to get started.