For Patients Respiratory Medicine

New ‘Flash freeze’ treatment – Hope for chronic bronchitis patients

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as COPD, describes a group of lung conditions where people have difficulty breathing. This is caused by long-term damage to the lungs which result in a narrowing of the airways.

A recent report by the World Health Organisation revealed 65 million people worldwide are affected by COPD, and it is the third leading cause of death. In the UK, COPD is estimated to impact 1.2 million people, with up to a third of those experiencing chronic bronchitis. 

Chronic bronchitis is the most common form of COPD which causes inflammation of the ‘bronchi’, or airways of the lungs. This condition results in the airways to become inflamed and narrowed. Although there is no cure for this condition, treatments such as inhalers temporarily relieve symptoms. 

Innovative ‘flash freeze’ lung procedure

An exciting new study led by Professor Pallav Shah, a world-leading respiratory physician based at Royal Brompton Hospital London, shows a 30-minute ‘flash freeze’ lung procedure can improve chronic bronchitis symptoms. This innovative treatment aims to stop the production of excess mucus and provide longer-lasting relief.

“As there are no available medical treatments for chronic bronchitis with persistent sputum production, these early findings bring hope to the many patients affected with the debilitating symptoms of this condition,” explains Professor Shah.

Types of bronchitis and symptoms

There are two types of bronchitis. Acute bronchitis is a temporary inflammation of the airways as a result of an infection, which causes a phlegmy cough. In most cases, it clears up on its own in weeks. 

But in some cases, the inflammation worsens, leading to long-term damage to the lungs, a build-up of excess mucus, and a persistent cough. For patients experiencing this long-term condition, even the most basic household chore can feel like a struggle.

Unlike acute bronchitis, the chronic form of the condition can last up to three months. Chronic bronchitis is characterised by a long-term cough and a rapid decline in lung function, causing shortness of breath. Constant lung infections and repeated admissions to hospital are common too.

Causes of COPD

Typically, suffers of COPD tend to be smokers due to the long-term damage it causes to the lung’s airways. The risk of the disease increases the more a person smokes and the longer they continue with the habit.

In 2019, 14% of the population in the UK aged 18 years and above smoked cigarettes1. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region smoking is prevalent, resulting in 3.6% of adults aged over 40 years old with COPD. In Egypt, COPD is increasing becoming a significant health problem2.

COPD can also be caused by air pollution, fumes, dust or inherited disorders – although this is rare.

A novel 30-minute lung procedure

The flash freeze procedure offers a new approach to treat the underlying cause of chronic bronchitis. Using the RejuvenAir® system, clinicians are able to deliver controlled doses of cryogen spray at -196°C directly to the diseased area of the respiratory tract during a bronchoscopy procedure. 

This is a minimally invasive procedure taking 30 minutes under general anaesthetic. A tube containing a camera is inserted into the patient’s airways, then a tiny probe is threaded through the tube. The specialised probe carefully delivers specific doses of the cryogen spray.

This process instantly kills diseased cells which over-produce mucus in the top layer of airway tissue. The cells underneath remain unscathed, allowing new tissue to form quickly in a few days.

Patients undergoing the treatment are able to return home the same day, and are reported to feel a difference in symptoms two or three days later. One lung is treated first, followed by the second, four to six weeks later. 

Promising results

An initial study, published in the European Respiratory Journal, found the approach was safe. Patients reported they were producing less mucus, were less breathless, and less reliant on their inhalers. Professor Shah commented, “The treatment really improved patient’s quality of life.”

He continued, “We are due to start a more detailed clinical study with the liquid nitrogen cryospray (RejuvenAir) treatment, which will hopefully add more evidence of improved outcomes in these patients.”

As there are no available medical treatments for chronic bronchitis, early results for the flash freeze approach bring hope to the many patients affected with the debilitating symptoms of this condition. 

Chronic bronchitis can greatly reduce quality of life, with patients avoiding social situations and activities they enjoy, as well as reducing life expectancy in those affected. Early diagnosis of COPD is important and the implementation of spirometry testing for individuals at risk may identify the disease in its early stages.

To find out more about COPD treatments at our hospitals, please contact us on +44 (0)20 3131 0535 or email privatepatients@rbht.nhs.uk.

  1. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandlifeexpectancies/bulletins/adultsmokinghabitsingreatbritain/2019
  2. https://www.ejbronchology.eg.net/article.asp?issn=1687-8426;year=2015;volume=9;issue=1;spage=27;epage=33;aulast=Said


 

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