Your Health 11-16-12 Experimental emphysema treatment

This story offers significant motivation for people to quit smoking.

Almost four million Americans suffer with a life-altering lung disease called emphysema.

Linda Mays reports{}UAB is conducting research to help former smokers to simply live and breath easier.


Smoking is bad for you, we've all heard.{} But, no one knows how much of a critical blow smoking can have on your health, like someone who suffer from a lung disease like emphysema.

{}Emphysema eventually damages air sacs in the lungs. The problem is, the lung becomes larger than it's supposed to - and that makes breathing difficult.{} Smoking causes ninety percent of the emphysema cases.

Dr. Mark Dransfield, Medical Director of UAB's Lung Health Center says, "Early on people don't recognize the symptoms are due to emphysema. They have a subtle cough or get colds or bronchitis episodes frequently or develop shortness of breath. They don't think about it as being major."

But, over time the symptoms become worse and unfortunately doctors see emphysema patients with a 50 percent or more loss of their lung function.

Breathing isn't as easy as simply taking a deep breath.

Dr. Mark Dransfield says. "When people take a deep breath in the diaphragm pulls down like that and the lung comes with it. When you get severe emphysema the diaphragm gets flattened so the lungs get bigger and they push the diaphragm down so, you can't use that diaphragm to initiate a breath. So, people breath with muscles of their neck or chest wall to kind of lift the chest open and expand the lungs that way."

UAB is first hospital in the United States to test an experimental emphysema therapy to reduce lung volume, which is caused by the disease.

It's a non-invasive alternative to the surgical procedure that's associated with a significant risk of complications.

It's called the AeriSeal System treatment which calls for an injected foam sealant or polymer into the patient's lungs.

Dr. Dransfield says, "This technique is done bronchoscopically and a polymer is injected thorough a catheter to the disease portion of the lung where the emphysema is the worst and that causes those air sacs to be closed off and scar down. allowing the diaphragm to work much better."

{}UAB treated the first U.S. patient in the AeriSeal System's late stage clinical trial in late October. Prior to this, the former smoker was on oxygen at all times, maximal medication, and limited in activity.

Dr. Mark Dransfield says the risks of cardiac and pulmonary complications that come along with the surgical technique are lower with the AeriSeal System treatment.

However, there are side effects that may include an inflammatory response within 12 hours, fever, chest pain, and sometimes shortness of breath.

This is expected to resolve over the first 24 hours in most people.

{}The AeriSeal System is not a cure for emphysema.

Dr. Dransfield says, "The hope is the experimental therapy will improve the patient's quality of life, the emphysema symptoms and long-term survival."


Dr. Dransfield says the main side effect of this therapy is an immune system inflammatory response with flu-like symptoms that resolve over the course of two to three days.

ABC 33/40's Linda Mays asked, "How is the first patient?"

It's been just over two weeks. After an overnight hospital stay, the patient went home.

And I'm told that he couldn't comment yet on whether he's seeing a difference.

Individuals interested in the experimental emphysema treatment should call UAB's Lung Health Center at (205) 934-5555.