World COPD day: research, advances and collaboration
Posted on: 15 November 2023
Today, November 15th, is World COPD Day. Professor Suzanne Cloonan writes about the disease, its incidence in Ireland, current research and the establishment of an international research network which was founded to expand our understanding of COPD.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a prevalent and serious lung condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterised by persistent breathing difficulties and reduced airflow and encompasses chronic bronchitis and emphysema. While it may not be as widely discussed as some other health conditions, COPD has a significant impact on the lives of those diagnosed with the disease and some may not even realise they have it.
The Irish Thoracic Society estimates that almost 500,000 people aged 40 years and over in Ireland could have COPD, of whom over 200,000 have moderate or severe disease and only half are likely to be diagnosed. It is ranked as the third leading cause of death globally by the World Health Organisation, and the fourth leading cause of death in Ireland.
Currently there is no cure for COPD because of a lack of awareness of the disease, technical limitations to study COPD in a laboratory setting, the heterogeneity of clinical traits making it difficult to design these trials, as well as difficulties in diagnosis. Historically, research into COPD disease mechanisms has also been poorly funded in relation to the high global impact of the disease.
To expand our understanding of COPD and to ignite novel research directions and therapeutic avenues paving the way to eliminate the disease, the newly developed Advanced COPD Research International Network(COPD-iNET) was founded.
The network´s primary focus is the advancement of translational COPD research by discussing ongoing projects, cutting edge models, state-of-the art systems biology approaches, and clinical cohorts. This allows for identifying and enabling synergies to facilitate the discovery of novel COPD pathomechanisms. This network will also foster new collaborations and ideas to transform our understanding of COPD. It will also aid in developing a database for sharing resources, expertise, education, and mentoring in conjunction with collaborative consortia to be competitive in high level funding opportunities.
COPD-iNET brings together world-wide experts on basic, preclinical, and clinical COPD research in monthly online meetings and in-person meetings at major respiratory conferences. In October 2023 the first COPD-iNET symposium was held Munich and saw over 90 world-class researchers meeting together.
Continued scientific exploration and collaboration across disciplines are indispensable for unravelling the intricacies of COPD and developing innovative solutions for better patient care.
So, what’s the landscape like for COPD in Ireland? Despite the burden of COPD in this country, national prevalence studies using international protocols have not been conducted (Reference Irish Thoracic Society), despite Ireland’s prevalence of chronic bronchitis amongst 20 to 44 year olds, in 2001 was 8% - in contrast to European median prevalence of 2.6%. While the age group did not represent the usual age profile of COPD patients, it did indicate that COPD could be a significant problem in Ireland.
Overall, the age-standardised mortality rate for COPD in the WHO European region is about 18 per 100,000 people per year. Ireland’s age standardised COPD mortality rate of 27.87/100,000 population is the 5th highest in WHO Europe and 3rd highest in the EU. In 2013, the age-sex standardised hospitalisation rate for COPD in Ireland was 395 per 100,000 population, which was significantly higher than the OECD average of 201 hospitalisations per 100,000 population. Ireland has the highest rate among the selected OECD countries (Reference Irish Thoracic Society).
As we observe World COPD Day 2023, we envision a future in which effective COPD research, marked by collaborative efforts from researchers, funding agencies, policymakers, and advocacy groups, will serve as the foundation for extending the lives and improving the health of millions of individuals affected by COPD. Targeted anti-inflammatory agents, regenerative medicine, and precision medicine tailored to individual genetic profiles are promising and rapidly growing fields. Early detection of COPD risk, combined with personalized treatment strategies, also holds potential for more effective disease management.
Suzanne Cloonan is Professor in Respiratory Biochemistry, School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin