UPMC Research Center leading study to improve breathing of COPD patients

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PITTSBURGH - It's been years since Linda Sachs of Hampton has been able to do the simple things like walk her dogs.

"I always described it as it felt like I was being hugged by a bear," she said.

Sachs, a former smoker, was diagnosed with emphysema more than a decade ago.

She uses oxygen to breathe and was considering a lung transplant.

"It took me all day just to grocery stop because I'd have to buy the groceries, put them in the trunk to the bottom of the steps, from the bottom of the steps in the house," she described. "It was ridiculous."

Dr. Frank Sciurba, the director of UPMC's Emphysema Research Center, is leading the local arm of a national study to try to improve the breathing of emphysema or COPD patients.

Two weeks ago, he and a team of doctors implanted 10 small coils into Sachs' right lung.

The wires are inserted non-surgically using a bronchoscope. When released, they recoil and pulling the damaged lung area so the healthier part of the lung can work better. The procedure only takes an hour.

"They allow for more forceful expiration, more complete expiration," said Sciurba. "There's less collapse of the airways and it improves lung function leading to better activity and better quality of life."

Sachs was the first person enrolled in the country, and she was the second to undergo the procedure. She was home the following day.

She noticed an immediate difference with the little things, like baking and housework.

"Everything is just so much easier," she said.

Sciurba said the results are encouraging.

"We really need something to treat these patients with more advance disease and emphysema," he said.

In four months, doctors will implant 10 more coils in Sachs' left lung.

She will be monitored for at least a year.

The study is being conducted at 30 centers worldwide.

UPMC is looking for 20 to 30 patients to participate.

For more information about participating in the trial, emphysema sufferers over the age of 35 who quit smoking at least two months prior should call Christina Ledezma, Ph.D., clinical research coordinator, at 866-948-2673.