RMIT research investigates whether exposure to cigarette smoke and flu virus may prevent lung medications from working properly.
Lung disease, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma, is a leading cause of death in Australia.
More than 13,000 people die from lung disease every year, 2014 data from Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals.
COPD also costs Australians more than $8.8 billion per year, mainly due to the high number of hospitalisations.
Smoking and viral infections can lower the effectiveness of drugs taken to treat chronic lung diseases.
Associate Professor Ross Vlahos from RMIT’s School of Health and Biomedical Sciences has been collaborating with researchers at Monash University and the Lung Health Research Centre at The University of Melbourne to reduce the human and financial toll by developing a new preclinical model that could be used to test new medications designed to extend and improve the lives of people with lung disease.
His study supports observations in COPD patients showing reduced effectiveness of symptom-reliever medication in flare-ups linked to cigarette smoking and infection with viruses such as influenza.
The findings showed that the effectiveness of a commonly used COPD symptom-reliever medication gets reduced owing to cigarette smoke exposure and influenza A infection in an animal model of the respiratory disease.
Cigarette smoke alters immunity and increases a patient’s susceptibility to infection, which can worsen symptoms and cause flare-ups.
"There is a clear need for new therapies that can overcome the limitations of current drugs used to treat COPD and associated flare-ups," Vlahos said.
"One of the most common drugs used to relieve the symptoms of COPD works by dilating a patient's airways, which makes it easier for them to breathe. However, the effectiveness of drugs can be limited.
"When combined with knowledge gained through clinical research, animal models utilising cigarette smoke exposure are a valuable tool in the quest to identify new therapies for these life-changing conditions."
In this latest study, the researchers assessed sections of lungs from mice exposed to cigarette smoke and a version of the influenza A virus.
In animal models, the team found that lung tissues exposed to cigarette smoke and viral infections were less responsive to the drug than tissues that were not.
The research, published in the Portland Press journal Clinical Science, suggests a need for new drugs to treat COPD patients in these categories and a model that can be used to test new medications.
Researchers can then design alternative, more efficacious agents to help treat people with COPD, especially during a viral exacerbation.
A commentary article accompanying Vlahos’ study will shortly be published in Clinical Science to accompany the research.
Professor Sebastian Johnston from Imperial College London, one of the authors of the upcoming commentary, said: "The findings of this study suggest that cigarette smoke and respiratory virus infections may impair the ability of salbutamol to effectively bronchodilate the airways.
"These findings emphasise yet again that smoking is bad for you, and especially so if you have asthma or COPD."
The project was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Story: Petra van Nieuwenhoven