Nanoparticles can break through the mucus barrier

A team of experts in Brazil have demonstrated how their recently designed DNA-loaded nanoparticles are capable of passing through the mucus barrier in the lungs.
They believe that this can potentially lead to the development of therapeutic genes that can be delivered directly to the lungs using the nanoparticles to help treat CF, COPD and asthma.
“To our knowledge, this is the first biodegradable gene delivery system that efficiently penetrates the human airway mucus barrier of lung tissue,” said study author Jung Soo Suk.
The lung’s mucus barrier is important to keep lungs healthy as it is responsible for protecting the lungs from being infected by bacteria and foreign agents. The inhaled particles are trapped in the mucus and swept away from the lungs via beating cilia and goes to the stomach to be degraded. In many respiratory conditions this mucus barrier is a lot thicker and drugs cannot penetrate the barrier to get to the damaged cells underneath it and blocks treatment.
The team worked to demonstrate that by placing replacement or corrective genes or drug agents inside a biodegradable nanoparticle ‘wrapper’ that these can be inhaled by the patient and are able to pass through the barrier and work to correct defective genes within lung tissue cells in order to correct these cells so that they work more efficiently and significantly improve respiratory conditions. This would be excellent treatment for severe lung diseases as it would be efficient, a unique dose could work for many months and there would be less adverse side effects and no lung inflammation.
Previous studies have shown that non-viral, DNA-loaded nanoparticles have a positive charge which causes the gene to become attracted to and stick to the negatively charged mucus within the lungs. This has prevented traditional nanoparticles from effectively making it to their targets as they keep sticking to other unwanted targets during the journey through the lungs and also tend to aggregate and clump together making them too large to penetrate the mucus.
The new nanoparticles have a dense coat of a polymer called PEG, which neutralises the charge and prevents the sticky exterior problem.  The study showed that these newly designed nanoparticles keep their size and rapidly penetrate the mucus layer. They are also biodegradable containing a protein which breaks down the delivery system once it has delivered its contents to the lung tissue cells.
They are now planning to move on to studies with humans and hopefully this potentially highly effective treatment wont be too many years away. It also demonstrates how wide-ranging the nanoparticle delivery system could potentially be and that by tweaking the system depending on the environment, the method could be used to effectively administer drug treatments to all areas of the body that previously had been considered difficult to reach or with barriers preventing drug access.

New device could predict asthma attacks in children

Researchers from a University in Utah have developed a model that can anticipate the deterioration of asthma in children. Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease where the airways narrow and become swollen due to mucus accumulation in the lungs. Patients experience difficulty in breathing, coughing, frequent respiratory infections and tightness of the chest. It is believed that asthma is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors such as pollution, dust and smoking. There is no cure for asthma, for those with mild cases it can be handled by avoiding triggers such as pollution and certain foods but for those with more severe cases medications are needed to try and treat the symptoms however many patients suffer more frequent exacerbations and asthma attacks. Oxygen therapy and more severe medications are also sometimes needed for those that suffer from it badly.
Millions of people suffer from asthma and children are affected more than adults.  Asthma attacks can be terrifying for both the child and their parents and it is difficult for a child to communicate their health status. Sometimes the parent has no idea the child is unwell until they cant breath and are in the middle of an asthma attack. This also results in huge cost to the NHS with children being admitted to hospital after visiting the A and E department for an attack. It would be helpful if the child or parents could anticipate that an attack may occur so that they can be prepared and maybe put into action a plan to prevent an exacerbation or reduce the frequency or severity of them.
The researchers have developed a machine learning model that is able to predict signs of asthma deterioration in children one week prior to an exacerbation. The Asthma Symptom Tracker is a self-monitoring tool that has been trialed on children with asthma over a 2 year period.  The data has been collected and allowances made for temperature, humidity, tree pollen count etc and the results suggested that the mode; was 71% accurate, 74% sensitive and 71% specific in predicting an exacerbation a week later.
This model can now be integrated into an electronic device, which can be worn by the user. The device can take constant readings and warn the user of a potential case of deterioration in their health.  The overall success rate is around 75% so would be extremely useful in helping those that suffer from asthma, as hopefully in the future a model can be developed for adults too. This could reduce exacerbations, improve the well-being of the patients and decrease the burden on the health care system.

Vegetables can help you breathe easy

Lung disease kills over 60,000 British people every year, with Lung cancer, COPD and asthma being the biggest killers. A healthy diet can slow the damaging effects of smoking and prevent lung cancer from spreading. Lung cancer and COPD are mostly caused by the effects of smoking but a healthy diet of fruit and vegetables may help to prevent the DNA-damaging effects of tobacco smoke as well as helping to prevent cancer from spreading, slow down the progression of COPD and improve lung function. Tobacco smoke contains chemicals that weaken the body’s immune system, making it more susceptible to disease and handicapping its ability to destroy cancer cells. But the smoke can also damage cell DNA, increasing the chance of cancer cells forming and flourishing in the first place.
The government recommends 150 minutes of moderate activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity spread across the week plus exercise to improve muscle strength at least twice a week.
Walking for 150 minutes a week reduces your mortality rate by 7% compared to being sedentary. Walking for 300 minutes a week reduces it by 14% and an hour-long walk each day reduces it by 24%.
Researchers asked some long-term smokers to eat a single stalk of broccoli a day. It was found that they suffered 41% fewer DNA mutations during the study. Compounds in broccoli also have the potential to suppress the spread of cancer by preventing the cancer cells from grouping-up together.
It is thought that a quarter of lung cancer cases may be caused by carcinogens in the fumes when you are frying. When any fat is heated to frying temperature toxic chemicals are released, which can cause genetic mutations. A study of women in China found that smokers who stir-fried meat every day had nearly three times the odds of lung cancer compared with smokers who stir-fried non-meat foods.
The fumes produced by frying bacon contain carcinogens called nitrosamines. Though all meat may release potentially carcinogenic fumes, processed meat such as bacon may be the worst. A study found bacon fumes cause four times more DNA mutations than the fumes from beef burgers fried at similar temperatures. If you must fry, use a barbecue. Studies show that the number of particles deposited into the lungs increases tenfold when frying indoors as opposed to outdoors.
Researchers asked men with high cholesterol to take 3 shots of kale juice a day for 3 months and the kale lowered their bad cholesterol (LDL) and boosted their good cholesterol levels (HDL) to the same levels as if they had run 300 miles. It also increased the levels of antioxidants in the subject’s blood. Except in the smoking group as cigarettes create free radicals which counteract this and deplete the body of antioxidants.
One study has found that consumption of cured meat such as bacon, ham, sausage and salami may increase the risk of COPD due to the nitrate preservatives in meat.
In 2010 another study monitored 2 groups; one group kept their normal diet and the other group boosted their fruit and vegetable consumption. Over the next couple of years the first group found that their COPD grew progressively worse whereas the second group found that their disease progression was halted and their lung function had improved. The researchers suggested this could be due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of the fruit and veg, along with a reduced consumption of meat, which is thought to act as a pro-oxidant.
A study of more than 100,000 adults in India found that those who consumed meat daily, or even occasionally, were more likely to suffer from asthma than those who excluded meat and eggs from their diets altogether. Researchers removed fruits and vegetables from asthma patients’ diets to see what would happen and within two weeks their symptoms worsened. In contrast when they increased fruit and vegetable consumption to seven servings a day the subjects’ exacerbation rate halved.
Researchers in Sweden decided to test out a plant-based diet on a group of 35 severe asthmatics who weren’t getting better despite the best medical therapies. Of the 24 patients who stuck with the plant-based diet, 70% improved considerably after four months and 90% improved within a year.
From all the studies being carried out, all the evidence seems to point to the fact that a plant-based diet is immensely good for you, if you have lung conditions such as cancer, COPD and asthma and that potentially reducing meat and egg consumption may also be beneficial to your health and aid in halting disease progression, reducing exacerbations, improving lung function and preventing the spread of cancer.

Fish oil and its far reaching health benefits

Recent studies have shown that fish oil and fish oil supplements provide nutritional protection against some of the most dreaded diseases of aging. Its major power is its ability to stop inflammation which is a key problem in many diseases and most age-related illnesses.
It is well known that a diet rich in omega-3s helps to reduce inflammation but now it has been realised how it happens. While studying acute inflammation in animals, scientists noticed the production of small molecules released in response to inflammation, especially in the presence of high levels of omega-3 fats. “These molecules had a dual set of actions. First, they sent out a ‘stop signal,’ quickly putting a stop to runaway inflammation. Next, they triggered the active resolution of inflammation.”
If you have a healthy supply of omega-3s in your body then it will help your body to produce these molecules to stop and repair inflammation. This pathway involving these pro-resolution molecules works well with acute inflammation but with chronic inflammation there is a reduced level of pro-resolution molecules which allows the inflammation to keep running at a low active level.
Studies have shown that people with diseases that involve chronic inflammation have reduced levels of pro-resolution molecules. Other studies have revealed that these molecules are sharply reduced with age. “In fact, it is this deficiency that is now recognized as one of the chief reasons that we increasingly suffer from chronic inflammation as we grow older.”
By restoring levels of pro-resolution molecules to normal levels many inflammatory conditions can be resolved and healing can take place. The best way to do this is to ensure you have a healthy supply of omega-3 by ensuring you have fish oil in your diet or take fish oil supplements.
Low-grade inflammation and low levels of these molecules has been linked to excessive body fat, insulin resistance and hypertension. Also boosting levels of these pro-resolution molecules would be especially important to people with cardiovascular disease because they have been found to reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, block clot-promoting platelet activation, prevent heart arrhythmias, prevent vascular inflammation and improve vascular function, and protect the heart muscle following a heart attack. “That immense spectrum of action has led some researchers to describe omega-3s as a ‘poly-pill,’ capable of attacking multiple targets of cardiovascular health at once.”
Lung diseases such as asthma and COPD are well known to involve out-of-control inflammation and recent studies show that asthma sufferers have reduced levels of pro-resolution molecules. Animal studies show that after treatment with omega-3 the asthma attacks were less severe. After a decade it was shown that after fish oil supplementation in pregnant women or the patient there was a 3 fold reduction in allergies and eczema, 63% reduction in children developing asthma, many athletes had a 5-fold improvement in pulmonary function and even non-athletes had vastly improved pulmonary function and exercise-induced asthma became resolved in many. COPD patients experienced significant improvements in their breathing ability, had increased oxygen saturation and found they could walk a lot further.
Neuro-inflammation is a major contributor to chronic neuro-degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Studies have shown that by increasing pro-resolution molecules derived from fish oil can stop this neuro-inflammation and reduce the cognitive decline in these conditions as well as helping to improve memory and dementia statuses in these patients.
Therefore just by ensuring you are taking in enough fish oil can have a major impact upon your health and can help improve many conditions and diseases that are linked to inflammation.

Asthma treatment could be aided by a sensor and app

asthma, lung function
Millions of people suffer the daily struggle of controlling their asthma symptoms. Trying to avoid possible triggers and not knowing when the next attack may occur. Many of the attacks and hospitalizations are preventable if the patient understands their condition and avoids triggers and situations which can cause an asthma attack.
Scientists have developed ‘Wing’, a pocket-sized device that plugs into your smartphone and can detect early warning signs of an asthma attack, which the company states as being of ‘medical-grade’ accuracy. By blowing into the sensor it accurately measures lung function by calculating how much air you can exhale in one second and how fast you can exhale and stores and tracks this data.
Everyone’s respiratory condition is slightly different but by using the device consistently over time the program can learn about the individual’s condition and become personalised. It can allow the patient to visualise their lung function via a ‘stop-light’ zone system, detect environmental and medication triggers that can cause symptoms to flare-up and help the user be able to take preventative measures to stop an asthma attack from occurring.
Studies carried out with patients using oxygen have shown that where patients are monitoring their lung function better and improving it by avoiding flare-ups and attacks that can cause further damage, the oxygen they are consuming is then being more effectively utilized by their lungs and uptake and subsequent blood oxygen levels are significantly improved.
It can also help monitor other conditions such as cystic fibrosis and other COPD-related conditions. Other user groups such as athletes, singers and wind musicians can also make great use of the app. It can proactively help the user to understand and monitor their lung function and to work with a doctor to avoid triggers and find a treatment plan to keep you breathing at your best. Users have not only been able to avoid attacks but have also improved their lung function, breathing and quality of life.
Wing currently works on any iPhone 5 or later running iOS8 or later with an Android app currently in development and plugs in via the headphone jack port. It runs off of the smartphone battery so no need for an additional power supply.
The device is expected to gain its FDA approval by next year and be ready for purchase by August 2016. This will be an exciting new and easy aid for millions of people to use as part of their treatment plan to help combat various respiratory conditions but is also adaptable to be used by healthy individuals to monitor and improve their lung function.
References: and and

Good bacteria could be the key to curing asthma‏

Asthma is caused by your airways being more sensitive to irritants and becoming inflamed, making it difficult to breathe. Cases are on the increase and one in every 11 children in the UK are now diagnosed with Asthma. One explanation for the rise in Asthma is the ‘Hygiene Hypothesis’, which has been discussed for many years. This suggests that children are no longer exposed to enough bacteria at an early age, which normally would help to build the immune system to be able to tell the difference between friend and foe bacteria. This results in the immune system believing that pollen and other triggers are harmful resulting in the airways becoming inflamed as the immune system attacks.
On the back of these discussions a team analysed the billions of bugs that naturally occur within the human body. Microbes, bacteria and fungi outnumber human cells 10 to one and this ‘microbiome’ is thought to be key to our health. They found that if there were four main groups of bugs missing then the risk of developing asthma was very high. The types of bacteria are faecalibacterium, Lachnospira, Veillonella and Rothia. The team looked for the presence of these bacteria in children aged 3 months and one year and then looked to see if they developed asthma by the age of 3. The lack of these bacteria in both age groups resulted in a high risk of developing asthma by the age of 3.
It appears that the first year of life is crucial and that the ‘right bugs at the right time‘ could be the best way of preventing asthma and other allergies. Exposing children in the first year of life to a wide variety of bacteria could help to ensure that their immune system is calibrated correctly and prevent later development of asthma.
Further experiments, which looked into the ‘passing down of immunity’ from mother to child involved giving a bacterial cocktail to mice who then had offspring with reduced inflammation in their lungs. Other suggestions involve the fact that giving birth by Caesarean section and not breast feeding may both limit the bacteria from being passed from mother to child and hinder immune system development.
Dr Marsland from Switzerland has been researching this area for a number of years and believes that diet, microbes and the first year of life are key in preventing or easing Asthma symptoms. He believes that a high fibre diet is important for keeping the gut healthy, as it is the delicate balance of gut bacteria in our bodies that affects our immune system and may play a role in asthma development.
However this is just a step in the right direction, more research needs to be carried out into these four types of bacteria, their role within the body and their relationship with the immune system and conditions like allergies and Asthma. If there is a direct link then new information could be given to new parents about exposing children to bacteria, a bacteria cocktail could potentially be created to be given to pregnant women or young children, there may also be a way of training the immune system at a later stage of development by introducing these bacteria to patients to try and cure or lessen their Asthma.
Scientists urge people not to run out and buy lots of friendly bacteria yogurt drinks and pro-biotic yogurts, as much more research is needed to ascertain the facts and details of what this discovery actually means for the larger population in real life. Doctors urge Asthma patients to continue with their inhalers, medications and oxygen therapy as prescribed, which all help to ease the symptoms.
References: and

Cystic Fibrosis Discovery May Lead To New Treatment To Help Patients Breathe Easier

A team led by UC San Francisco professor of medicine John Fahy, MD, has discovered why mucus in the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis (CF) is thick, sticky and difficult to cough up, leaving these patients more vulnerable to lung infection.
They found that inflammation causes new molecular bonds to form within mucus which transforms it from a liquid to a sludge.
This research has implications for other lung conditions characterized by thickened mucus, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) and asthma.
The scientists also made headway in the lab in exploring a potential new therapeutic approach to dissolve those bonds and return the mucus to a liquid that is easier for the lungs to clear.
Polymers – naturally-occurring molecules in mucus that form long chains – are the key to the discovery. Originally it was thought that there was just an increased concentration of these polymers with CF sufferers but now they know that more bonds form they just need to develop a drug that will break down and dissolve these extra bonds safely.
Fahy likened the polymers to logs floating down a river. “The logs can float down the river as long as they are floating independently,” he said. “But if you bolt them together side to side, they will clog the river.”
The researchers found that inflammation causes the extra disulphide bonds to form, when mucin polymers are exposed to highly reactive oxygen molecules released by inflammatory cells in a process called oxidative stress. Patients who are treated with pure oxygen have long been known to develop sticky mucus and this could be an unfavourable side-effect of the oxygen that’s used to treat them.
A new drug called TDG has been developed to target these mucin polymer bonds to re-liquefy a patient’s mucus but it is still going through the testing stages at present and will be at least 5 years away.
This new finding that explains the reason behind mucus thickening will not only help CF sufferers but other patients with lung diseases such as COPD and asthma. This potential new treatment in the pipeline could help millions of patients enjoy an easier more comfortable life if this drug can eliminate the problems of thickened mucus. It not only clogs up the lungs and makes breathing difficult and coughing it up distressing but also increases the risk of harmful infections taking hold, which could also be reduced with this new treatment.

Colds and COPD

It’s a depressing thought but autumn is just around the corner and with a change in weather there comes the increased chance of catching a cold.  If you have COPD or emphysema then you probably already know how miserable it feels when you catch a cold as breathing is already a strain. Not only does catching a cold worsen your ability to breathe, but it also increases your chance of catching a more serious respiratory tract infection.
A cold is a viral respiratory illness, which normally affects your nose and throat but can affect your airways as well. A COPD patient already suffers from damaged airways and a cold will hinder your breathing further and cause other changes:
•    An increase in phlegm
•    An increase in the thickness or stickiness of the phlegm
•    A change in phlegm colour to yellow or green
•    The presence of blood in the phlegm
•    An increase in the severity of shortness of breath, cough, or wheezing
•    A general feeling of ill health
•    Difficulty sleeping
•    Increased fatigue
Respiratory infections are responsible for 70% of cases where a patient’s COPD status has worsened. Catching a cold can open you up to a greater risk of developing more severe respiratory infections. Pneumonia is a common infection in COPD patients as the airways are obstructed and the body cannot cough up infected mucus.
Sometimes patients will require hospitalisation due to the worsening of their symptoms from a respiratory infection.  It is important to always inform your doctor if your cold symptoms get worse and not wait until you have more serious breathing problems.
If you catch a cold then ensure you stay on your prescribed COPD medications and then decide, with your doctor, what else to take to treat the cold symptoms.
You might treat the body aches and fever associated with a cold with ibuprofen. Although antihistamines can be helpful if you have mild allergy symptoms, you should avoid them if you constantly have thick mucus; they may make it more difficult for you to cough up the phlegm.
Most over-the-counter cold remedies are generally safe for people with emphysema and chronic bronchitis. However, decongestants raise blood pressure and some of the drugs used to treat emphysema and chronic bronchitis can also increase your heart rate. Use cold remedies with caution, especially if you have high blood pressure or other heart issues in addition to COPD. Again, ask your doctor about medications for cold symptoms.
Patients who use supplemental oxygen should ensure their equipment is kept hygienically clean, especially when friends/family/carers come round who may have a cold or be the carrier of the cold virus. Some patients feel safer using their mask rather than their nasal cannula as it covers their nose and mouth to reduce the chance of breathing in germs. If you are trying to keep active then some use their masks and portable concentrators when going outside or when among crowds, not only to support breathing function but to protect from potential viral germs. Some patients also find that if they do feel cold symptoms coming on then using oxygen when they sleep overnight and using it more during the day helps prevent symptoms from worsening.
The best way to treat a cold is to prevent one, here are some general tips to help you avoid catching a cold:
•    Wash your hands regularly.
•    Avoid crowds during cold and flu season.
•    Avoid cigarette smoke and air pollutants.
•    Eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly.
•    Stop smoking.
•    Make sure you are using your inhalers correctly.

The sun could help to treat asthma

The summer has finally started to rear its head and for many people who suffer from respiratory disease the summer months can potentially worsen their condition. An increase in air pollution, pollen, dust and other allergens can irritate the lungs and worsen breathing. The general advice is to stay indoors at peak pollen or air pollution times. However on the flip-side of this advice is that exposure to the sun may actually be good for you, especially asthma sufferers.
A study by King’s College London has found that the Vitamin D that the sun provides may have a calming impact with asthma sufferers as Vitamin D helps to lower an asthmatic’s over-active part of their immune system.
Many asthmatics have high levels of Interleukin-17, which causes part of their immune system to be over-active and contributes to their respiratory reactions to allergens and is part of the cause of some asthma attacks. Some asthmatic sufferers do not respond to steroid treatment and find difficulty in managing their symptoms. This group of asthmatics tends to have very high levels of Interleukin-17.
Researchers have found that if Vitamin D levels are increased then this lowers the levels of Interleukin-17 and helps to calm down the immune system leading to a lessening of symptoms.
“We know people with high levels of vitamin D are better able to control their asthma – that connection is quite striking,” said researcher Prof Catherine Hawrylowicz.
The sun is an easy natural source of Vitamin D (the body can make Vitamin D in the presence of sunshine) rather than taking synthetic supplements so the more you are out in the sun, the more Vitamin D your body will get and the happier your immune system.
Many asthma sufferers also have concerns about the side effects of their medications so if Vitamin D is shown to improve their condition then many may have to rely less on medication and can improve their quality of life.
Researchers have suggested that covering up too much and using too much sun cream has actually contributed to increased asthma rates. Obviously too much sun is bad for you and you should ensure that you protect your skin to avoid sunburn and potential skin cancers.
So there needs to be a balance of going outside and increasing your levels of Vitamin D versus avoiding high pollen counts and sunburn.
Here are a few tips to help you enjoy the summer despite your condition:
•    Check the Air Quality Index: Avoid peak times or areas with poor air quality.
•    Always Take Your Medication:  Whether this is ant-histamines, inhalers, steroids or supplemental oxygen.
•    Check the Pollen Count: Try to avoid going out at times where pollen is particularly high.
•    Use Air Conditioning Instead of Opening Windows: Open windows will just allow more pollen and allergens into your home or the car.
•    Wash regularly: Washing your hair and clothes regularly gets rid of any allergens that may have settled on you.
•    Talk to your doctor for advice.
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Common Causes of COPD

The 5 most common causes of developing COPD are below:
1.    Cigarette smoke. This is by the far the most common reason people get COPD. You can get it from any tobacco products, like cigar and pipe smoke, especially if you breathe in the smoke.  Smoking is the main cause of COPD and is thought to be responsible for around 90% of cases. The lining of the airways becomes inflamed and permanently damaged by smoking and this damage cannot be reversed. Up to 25% of smokers develop COPD.
2.    Passive smoking. Even if you don’t smoke yourself, just by breathing in second-hand smoke can cause damage to your lungs.
3.    Air pollution. You can get COPD from breathing in chemical fumes, dust, air pollution or toxic substances at work.
4.    Your genes. About 3 in 100 people with COPD have a defect in their DNA. This defect is called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency or AAT deficiency. Your lungs don’t have enough of a protein needed to protect them from damage, which can lead to severe COPD. The symptoms normally show before you’re 35 years old. A research study has shown that smokers who have brothers and sisters with severe COPD are at greater risk of developing the condition than smokers who do not.
5.    Asthma. If you don’t treat your asthma, over time you can get lifetime damage and it can develop into COPD.
Some of these risk factors can be avoided by quitting smoking, reducing the amount of pollution we breathe and if we have respiratory problems ensure we medicate and treat them properly. These steps will help to prevent damage to our lungs and help to prevent the development of COPD. Obviously the genetic factor cannot be avoided but only 1% of COPD sufferers have the genetic defect.
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