RESULTS from the Australian trial of a radical new approach to asthma treatment are being presented for the first time today and could revolutionise the way we approach the disease.
Bronchial thermoplasty – a minimally invasive surgical procedure to prevent constriction of the airways – has been likened to the introduction of laser surgery to improve eyesight.
“We’re at the tip of a new paradigm for how we treat asthma,” said Associate Professor David Langton, Director of Thoracic Medicine at Peninsula Health, Melbourne and one of the study’s lead researchers.
“The results of these trials could have a global impact, and completely revolutionise our approach,” he said.
An estimated 2.3 million Australians have asthma. About five to ten percent of these struggle to control their asthma using traditional treatments such as inhalers, and suffer from regular attacks leading to visits to ER, and lost days of work and school. Bronchial thermoplasty has been found to dramatically reduce the number of attacks by using the application of heat directly on the lungs to prevent them constricting.
The surgery involves an overnight stay in hospital, with the procedure being performed under general anaesthetic. A bronchoscope, a long, flexible tube with a camera on one end, is inserted through the nose or mouth to allow a doctor to ease a catheter into the patient’s airway.
Once it’s in place, the catheter tip is heated to 65 degrees for 10 seconds. The heat gets rid of excess smooth muscle from airways, which widens air passages and reduces the chances of an asthma attack.
In the Australian trial, 17 patients were treated from June 2014 to June 2015 in a number of different states. The results found the procedure to be safe, asthma control significantly improved, and the need for reliever medication reduced.
The study also demonstrated for the first time that the procedure worked well in people with severe as well as moderate asthma, and that in fact patients with severe asthma responded best to the surgery.
So far, the improvements look to be permanent.
Lung health experts are now calling for the widespread implementation of the procedure in Australia to be considered.
“This is a safe, effective, affordable procedure that has the potential to transform the lives of people struggling to control their asthma, offering the hope of less medication and an improved quality of life. The sooner we can make it available to those that need it the better,” said Langton.
The research is being presented to lung health experts from across Australia who are in Perth for the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand from April 1-6.
At the same time, Australia’s peak lung health organisations are issuing an urgent call to overcome a funding crisis that is crippling lung health research in the country.
Lung Foundation Australia and the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) warn that without additional financing, efforts to address potentially life-threatening conditions such as asthma, COPD and lung cancer will stall.
They have launched a “Lungs for Life” appeal from the conference in Perth.
To find out more about Lungs for Life or make a donation please visit www.thoracic.org.au