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Queen's Researchers make breakthrough in chronic lung disease

7/03/2019

Lungs

Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast have discovered a novel experimental treatment for chronic lung diseases that could improve the lives for people with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast have discovered a novel experimental treatment for chronic lung diseases that could improve the lives for people with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

Researchers have found that the symptoms associated with both diseases can be alleviated through inhibiting the activity of an enzyme found in the lungs. This builds on a previous study led by Queen’s University Belfast that found that high levels of a particular enzyme, cathepsin S, in the lungs of children with CF were associated with increased inflammation and lung damage.

Lead Investigator, Professor Cliff Taggart from the Wellcome-Wolfson Centre for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s University, said: “We know that this enzyme plays a key role in provoking symptoms of chronic lung diseases such as CF and COPD. We have now discovered that treatment to target this specific enzyme can significantly reduce inflammation, lung damage and mucus obstruction, key hallmark features of CF and COPD.”

CF is one of the UK's most common life-threatening inherited diseases[1] . It causes thickened mucus to form in the lungs, which blocks the airways, causes inflammation and can make it difficult to breathe. The average life expectancy in the UK is 40 years old, with a much lower life expectancy in developing countries[2].  

COPD patients also experience heightened inflammation in the lungs as well as increased lung damage. According to the Wold Health Organisation, COPD is expected to become the third leading cause of death worldwide by 2030[3].

The CF research, published in the European Respiratory Journal, brought together experts from Queen’s University Belfast, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, INSERM Paris and Virobay Inc. USA.

Simultaneously, the researchers at Queen’s jointly led an international study on COPD with the State University of New York in Brooklyn, in collaboration with Imperial College London, which has been published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Both studies looked at the role of the enzyme cathepsin S in two different lung diseases and produced similar findings – that inhibiting this enzyme could alleviate the symptoms associated with both diseases.

Professor Taggart explained: “Many drugs are developed as enzyme inhibitors but they don’t target specific enzymes. This general approach may lead to significant issues including increased infection. The specific targeting of cathepsin S enables the delivery of a much more targeted treatment to address the symptoms without unwanted side effects.”

Professor Marcus Mall from Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, and one of the co-authors, added: “Excessive inflammation in chronic lung diseases such as CF and COPD leads to irreversible damage of the airways, progressive loss of lung function and ultimately death due to respiratory failure. There is a high unmet need for effective anti-inflammatory therapies for patients with these chronic lung diseases and targeting of cathepsin S is a promising strategy that can now be tested in future clinical trials.”

Lead author Dr Weldon from Queen’s University added: “Thanks to this research, we now understand the causes and how to reduce the symptoms associated with both CF and COPD. Moving forward, we need to apply this knowledge in further testing so that ultimately, we can improve the quality of life for those affected by these diseases.”

The CF research was funded by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the Medical Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and EU FP7 and the Department for the Economy. The COPD research was funded by the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute and the Alpha One Foundation.

Media inquiries

Media inquiries to Queen’s University Communications Office T; +44 (0)28 9097 5292 E; comms.officer@qub.ac.uk 

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