Researchers at the University of Portsmouth found that heparin, a drug that has been around for more than 100years, significantly improves lung function and breathing in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
COPD, which affects about a million people, is an umbrella term for lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis; patients find it difficult to get air in and out of the lungs, partly because the airways become inflamed and narrow.
The main cause is smoking, but pollution and genetics have also been implicated. Over time, the walls of the airways thicken and mucus is produced, which worsens symptoms. One of the first signs is a cough, but it eventually causes extreme breathlessness and wheezing.
Treatment involves medication, often through nebulisers, to reduce inflammation and allows more oxygen into the lungs, or exercise programmes to bolster lung capacity.
Now UK scientists have discovered that turning the drug heparin into an aerosol, which can be inhaled through a face mask, can boost patients’ lung function.
Heparin is normally used in injection form for patients at risk of a blood clot, such as those who’ve recently had surgery or have a faulty heart rhythm.