A new saliva test could help predict future flare ups of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, allowing earlier treatment that could save lives, according to researchers.
The new research, presented at the British Thoracic Society’s winter meeting in London today, could herald an increase in self-monitoring by patients at home.
“Our research is exciting as it could represent a major step forward”
Researchers from the University Hospital of North Midlands said their study could help pave the way for a reduction in the number of COPD patients experiencing an acute worsening of their condition that required admission, saving both lives and NHS resources.
The study analysed, on a weekly basis, the level of three biomarkers – substances that indicate inflammation – taken from the saliva of 55 people with established COPD.
Patients were monitored whilst stable through to the period leading to, and during a flare up, and also in their recovery period.
The study found all three biomarkers could distinguish between a stable period where patients did not report severe symptoms and when they reported a problematic flare up of symptoms.
“This innovative research could lead the way to better monitoring”
Critically, the level of one of the key biomarkers showed a near three-fold increase (2.73) around to to five days before patients reported an exacerbation, mirroring the rising levels of inflammation in the body that occur before an attack of severe breathing problems.
Importantly, in the 15 patients who experienced more than one flare up in the study – one of their key biomarkers remained raised after the exacerbation, which could indicate that they may be at risk of repeated worsening of their condition.
Given this finding, the researchers believe the study could also help identify those people with COPD who are more at risk of a re-exacerbation, allowing health professionals to plan the most effective treatment strategies.
Early warning test could predict imminent COPD flare ups
Dr Neil Patel, specialist registrar in respiratory and intensive care medicine at the University Hospital of North Midlands and member of the British Thoracic Society, said: “Our research is exciting as it could represent a major step forward in the development of new home monitoring techniques.
“Critically, it could provide an ‘early warning sign’ of an imminent worsening of their lung condition, triggering early interventions that could save lives,” he said.
Dr Lisa Davies, chair of the British Thoracic Society, added: “This innovative research could lead the way to better monitoring and self-management of chronic lung disease. This would help increase quality of life, reduce emergency hospital admissions and even save lives.”