Health Team

Study: Coils help lung patients breathe easier

Posted May 6, 2014 5:27 p.m. EDT
Updated May 6, 2014 6:25 p.m. EDT

Edward Kirkland, 57, was diagnosed with emphysema in 2006.

“Smoking cigarettes is mostly what caused it,” he said. “My daddy, he died from emphysema, and my wife's sister died from emphysema.”

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, includes emphysema or chronic bronchitis, or both. It's the third-leading cause of death in the United States and affects 15 million adults.

“In emphysema, the air sacs, or aveoli, are damaged, over-inflated. So, they become enlarged, nonfunctional,” said Dr. Momen Wahidi, a Duke University lung specialist.

The enlarged lung tissue creates less room for healthy areas to function, he said. Treatment options include medications, lung transplantation or lung reduction surgery.

But a Duke study is looking at a less invasive option called a lung coil. Patients undergo a procedure in which a bronchoscope sent into the lungs releases up to 10 coils inside the damaged areas. The coils shrink that tissue.

“When you do that, then you are allowing space for the healthier units to function,” Wahidi said.

Some European countries already offer the procedure, but the Food and Drug Administration only recently allowed trials in the U.S. The trial at Duke, which Kirkland has joined, is among 20 in the country and the only one in North Carolina.

Kirkland says the study is just in time. He’s used inhaled medications for eight years.

“I had to do that at least four to five times a day, every day,” he said. “Since I got my coils, I quit using it. I don't need it anymore.”

The coils enabled him to stop using a 15-pound oxygen tank that was his constant companion.

“This is the first time I've picked that oxygen tank up since they put the coils in,” he said, showing the equipment.

Kirkland hopes the results last and that others with emphysema may enjoy the relief he is enjoying.

Duke is recruiting more than 250 patients to enroll in the study.