While declining smoking rates could see a drop in chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD), the prevalence of vaping has experts concerned a new COPD epidemic could be on the horizon.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a group of lung conditions that cause difficulty breathing, including emphysema (damage to the air sacs in the lungs), and chronic bronchitis (long-term airway inflammation).
COPD, commonly caused by smoking, worsens over time and is a leading cause of death in New Zealand, disproportionately affecting Mori and Pacific people.
University of Auckland researchers are pioneering a new approach to understanding COPD through modelling, to predict how the disease will progress in different people.
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Professors Merryn Tawhai and Justin OSullivan, deputy directors of the Auckland Bioengineering Institute and Liggins Institute, said some people are more susceptible to the disease than others, and some are more responsive to treatment.
While experts expect to see smoking-related COPD cases declining over the next couple of decades in line with reduced smoking rates there are concerns vaping could cause similar issues.
University of Auckland researchers Justin O’Sullivan and Merryn Tawhai are pioneering a new approach to the understanding of COPD.
Its quite possible that a person who is a lifetime vaper will develop something that is very similar to COPD, Tawhai said.
Vaping causes inflammation, which is bad for the lungs: Were potentially creating a new COPD epidemic.
Young people who may not have taken up smoking are vaping and vaping more than they might have smoked because they think theres nothing wrong with it, she said.
A number of studies have looked at the genetic basis of COPD and why some people respond better to treatment.
Tawhai and OSullivan aim to develop an approach that will help identify how both disease and treatment affects people at a personalised level. (File photo)
But by combining genetic and mathematical modelling, the researchers hope to be able to revisit earlier studies to advance understanding of individual patient differences.
It will involve investigating COPD at different scales and levels, including the DNA sequence, the way the DNA folds, the cells involved, the way the cells interact in the tissue, the distribution of tissue damage within the lung, and more.
If people could be shown their personal risk of developing a disease, they might be more motivated to look after their health by not smoking or vaping, Tawhai said.
Prevention is much better than waiting for treatment.