A new saliva test could help predict future flare ups of chronic lung disease, allowing earlier treatment that could save lives - according to new research presented at the British Thoracic Society Winter Meeting.
Researchers from the Directorate of Respiratory Medicine, University Hospital of North Midlands (UNHM) funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Invention for Innovation (i4i) programme, believe their study could help pave the way for a reduction in the number of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) experiencing an acute worsening of their condition that requires hospitalisation, saving both lives and NHS resources.
COPD is the name for a group of lung diseases that narrow the airways causing breathing difficulties. COPD inflicts a huge toll on patients, their carers, and on the NHS. In total, 1.2 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with COPD. There are 30,000 deaths from the disease in the UK each year.
The study analysed, on a weekly basis, the level of three biomarkers - substances in the body which indicate inflammation - taken from the saliva of 55 people with established chronic lung disease. This data was matched with patients' daily assessment of their own symptoms.
Patients were monitored whilst stable through to the period leading to, and during a flare up, and also in their recovery period. All three biomarkers in the saliva could distinguish between a stable period where patients did not report severe symptoms and when they reported a problematic flare up of symptoms.
Critically the level of one of the key biomarkers showed a near three-fold increase (2.73) approximately 2-5 days before patients reported a flare up. This mirrors the rising levels of inflammation in the body which 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 flare up, which could indicate that they may be at risk of repeated worsenings 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 repeated flare up or re-exacerbation of their lung condition, allowing health professionals to plan the most effective treatment strategies.
Dr Neil Patel, Specialist Registrar in Respiratory and Intensive Care Medicine at the University Hospital of North Midlands (UHNM) and member of the British Thoracic Society, said:
'Chronic lung disease is a major health and economic burden on society and the NHS. Our research is exciting as it could represent a major step forward in the development of new home monitoring techniques for patients to keep track of their lung disease. Critically it could provide an 'early warning sign' of an imminent worsening of their lung condition, triggering early interventions that could save lives.'
Dr Lisa Davies, Consultant Respiratory Physician at Aintree University Hospital and Chair of the British Thoracic Society Board, said:
'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.'