Management of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) suffers not only from a lack of effective therapies but also from an inability to track the disease’s progression. Spirometers that measure how much air patients can displace using their lungs are the “gold standard,” but that standard is pretty poor in helping to predict how COPD will develop.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have now used special nanoparticles to test the mucus of COPD patients, which may be an excellent biomarker for COPD progression.
The team originally developed special nanoparticles that slide through mucus with little hindrance. Most other nanoparticles are trapped by mucus, but these ‘muco-inert’ nanoparticles can travel from one pore within mucus to another.
What’s interesting, is that the structure of the mucus affects how fast these particles can move through it, so simply watching them under the microscope while they’re inside of mucus samples can provide a great deal of information about the mucus itself. To be able to see the nanoparticles, the team was able to attach fluorescent tags that can be triggered remotely to illuminate and reveal their locations.
The researchers have already worked with samples of mucus from 33 patients with and without COPD, including severe cases, and the mucus did seem to be an indicator of the progression of the disease. More studies are necessary, but the Hopkins researchers hope that their approach will allow for early detection of COPD progression and will, therefore, help clinicians to deliver therapies in a more timely manner, improving their effectiveness.