“Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” Well, there were no seatbelts and it was day instead of night. Otherwise, Bette Davis’s famous forecast was right on target for the trip inside a lung offered at NIH May 27. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute invited
NIH staff to take a “virtual journey inside the human body” to learn more about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
NHLBI’s partner in the “Learn More Breathe Better” campaign, the COPD Foundation, brought its COPD Shuttle ride to campus for a “multi-sensory demonstration of the health risks of smoking and air pollution on the lungs.”
Set up for the day on parking lot 10H, just south of the Clinical Center, the lung-shaped shuttle is a 20-seat state-of-the-art mobile motion simulator
that immerses riders in a 5-minute microscopic
journey to the “center of the lung.”
Throughout the ride, lung explorers are gently
pitched from side to side, forward and back as a movie theater screen shows the winding tunnel-like interior of an at-first healthy lung. A voiceover explains how COPD can develop, as viewers watch pollutants in the form of dust particles and smoke bits jump onto the tunnel’s
walls and narrow passages. As the narrator mentions a cough, shuttle passengers abruptly hear a loud rumble and are jerked briefly. Gripping
the safety bar is suddenly a good idea. Viewers can also see green goo ooze gradually
over the tunnel walls—unhealthy mucous is invading the lung lining.
“Well, there go my cigarettes,” quipped one passenger, exiting the shuttle. Lesson learned, perhaps.
COPD, which is almost completely preventable, affects 24 million people in the U.S. Over time, the disorder—also called emphysema or chronic bronchitis—makes it hard to breathe. It’s most common in people who have smoked cigarettes, but can occur in non-smokers. Environmental exposures—to coal dust or chemical fumes, for example—and genetics may also play a role in how COPD develops.—