Iowa Research Team Is Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

A team of University of Iowa researchers has contributed to a major study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that confirms the relationship between genes, variant airway anatomy, and COPD.

They are Ching-Long Lin, professor and departmental executive officer of mechanical and industrial engineering, and Eric Hoffman, professor of radiology, medicine, and biomedical engineering. Ben Smith, professor at Columbia University and the McGill University Health Centre Research Institute, served as first author.

The goal of the study was to define the clinical significance of variant airway anatomy among non-smokers for COPD and respiratory symptoms, and for incident COPD and lung function decline by following a cohort for 10 years. With Lin's research expertise, the team is investigating the mechanisms by which central airway variation is associated with COPD risk.  It includes state-of-the-art imaging of the human airway tree, overseen by the study's UI Radiology Center directed by Hoffman, along with advanced CFD modeling to understand the impact an individual's airway tree geometry on airflow and particle deposition.  The research facilitates personalized approaches to lung disease prevention and treatment.

“I applied a computational fluid dynamics lung model to provide supporting mechanistic evidence that genetically-determined airway variants may lead to altered inhaled aerosol distribution and subsequently different disease susceptibility in sub-populations,” Lin said.

"With the world class computational fluid dynamics methodologies of Dr. Lin, we now have the tools for gaining important new uses in understandings of the link between structure and function within the lung leading to new insights into the disease, associated with not only smoking but also environmental pollutants and the newly emerging exposures to inhaled vapors generated by e-cigarettes," Hoffman added.

Hoffman explained the study is important because the classical thinking about COPD pathogenesis was that heavy smoking over many years caused lung function to decline resulting in COPD later in life.  More recent studies suggest that some people with COPD later in life actually had low lung function early in life.  "Our findings suggest that variations in airway tree development many contribute to the COPD that we see later in life," he said. "More research is needed to determine if COPD that is associated with airway variation has a different prognosis from COPD due to smoking, which may help target treatment strategies."

VIDA Diagnostics, Inc. an Iowa City company with technology based on basic and applied research conducted at the University of Iowa, performed some of the CT image analyses in the study. The company provides software and analysis services that aid in the early detection, evaluation, and treatment planning of lung diseases, including lung cancer, emphysema, airway obstructive diseases, and asthma.

To access the complete publication, go to PDF iconpnas-2018-smith-1715564115_1.pdf

Eric Hoffman (left) and Ching-Long Lin