Researchers found that the symptoms associated with cystic fibrosis (CF) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) could be alleviated through inhibiting the activity of an enzyme found in the lungs.
The breakthrough builds on a previous study led by the team at Queen’s that found that high levels of a particular enzyme, cathepsin ‘S’, in the lungs of children with cystic fibrosis 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 the discovery could make a huge difference.
“We know that this enzyme plays a key role in provoking symptoms of chronic lung diseases such as CF and COPD,” Mr Taggart explained.
“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.
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 for people with the disease in the UK is 40 years old, with a much lower life expectancy in developing countries.
COPD patients also experience heightened inflammation in the lungs, as well as increased lung damage.
According to the World Health Organisation, COPD is expected to become the third leading cause of death worldwide by 2030.
The CF research, published in the European Respiratory Journal, brought together experts from Queen’s University Belfast, the Charite Universitätsmedizin Berlin, INSERM Paris and Virobay Inc US.
At the same time, 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. “Many drugs are developed as enzyme inhibitors, but they don’t target specific enzymes,” explained Professor Taggart.
“This general approach may lead to significant issues, including increased infection.
“The specific targeting of cathepsin ‘S’ enables the delivery of a more targeted treatment to address the symptoms without unwanted side effects.
“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 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 Sinead Weldon, from Queen’s University, said further testing was key to trying to improve the quality of life for chronic lung disease sufferers.
“Thanks to this research, we now understand the causes and how to reduce the symptoms associated with both CF and COPD,” she added.
“Moving forward, we need to apply this knowledge in further testing, so that we can improve the quality of life for those affected by these diseases.”