NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

New Class of Biologic Found Effective in Treating COPD

A graphic shows inhaled hyaluronan at the center surrounded by 5 circles, explaining the process of how it improves lung function.
Research shows that inhaling hyaluronan interferes at almost every step of the COPD cycle, making it a potent treatment for chronic lung disease.

Photo:  Credit Stavros Garantziotis

NIH researchers found that inhaling unfragmented hyaluronan improves lung function in patients suffering from severe exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 

Hyaluronan, a sugar secreted by living tissue that acts as a scaffold for cells, is also used in cosmetics as a skin moisturizer and as a nasal spray to moisturize lung airways. Utilized as a treatment, hyaluronan shortened the amount of time COPD patients in intensive care needed breathing support and reduced their number of days in the hospital.

The study, published online in Respiratory Research, is a good example of how examining the effects of environmental pollution on the lungs can lead to viable treatments. 

Several years ago, co-senior author Dr. Stavros Garantziotis, medical director of the clinical research unit at NIEHS, showed that exposure to pollution causes hyaluronan in the lungs to break down into smaller fragments, which irritate lung tissue and activate the immune system, leading to constriction and inflammation of the airways. He determined that inhaling healthy, unfragmented hyaluronan reduces inflammation by outcompeting the smaller hyaluronan fragments.

“Inhaled hyaluronan qualifies as a stimulating aid for patients with exacerbated COPD, as it is safe and easy to administer,” said co-senior author Dr. Raffaele Incalzi of Campus Bio-Medico University and Teaching Hospital, Rome. “Furthermore, it acts locally, only in the bronchial tree, and thus cannot interfere with any systemic drug.”

Current treatments for lung disease include inhaled steroids, antibiotics and bronchodilators. Using a molecule already found in the body is a new concept. Garantziotis aims to study this treatment in more patients to understand the optimal conditions and dosing that would produce the most benefit.

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

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