Heat-Based Technique Could Ease Asthma

Bronchial thermoplasty looks good in early trial

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FRIDAY, May 12, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- A new therapy called "bronchial thermoplasty," designed to reduce inflammation-related narrowing of the airways, may prove a boon to asthmatics, Canadian researchers report.

The technique improved asthma patients' peak expiratory flow (a measure of lung capacity), airway responsiveness, and number of symptom-free days, according to a Canadian study.

The 30-minute procedure involves the application of radio frequency thermal energy directly to the airway through a bronchoscope. The energy heats the airway tissue to about 65 degrees C (149 degrees F). This temperature is high enough to reduce airway smooth muscle mass but low enough to avoid tissue destruction and scarring. Three separate treatment sessions were required for each patient in order to treat all accessible airways of both lungs.

The two-year study included six men and 10 women, average age 39. Bronchial thermoplasty was performed on the patients at the start of the study.

Over the first 12 weeks after treatment, patients showed significant improvement in the number of symptom-free days, and in morning and evening airway peak flow.

"The procedure was well-tolerated. Side effects were transient and typical of what is commonly observed after bronchoscopy. All subjects also demonstrated improvements in airway responsiveness," researcher Gerard Cox, of the Firestone Institute for Respiratory Health at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, said in a prepared statement.

He and his colleagues plan to follow the study patients for five years in order to determine if there are any long-term safety concerns associated with bronchial thermoplasty.

The study appears in the May 1 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

"Whether bronchial thermoplasty will earn a place in the treatment of asthma remains to be determined," Dr. Elizabeth H. Bel, of the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, wrote in an accompanying editorial.

"However, this study shows the potential for a completely new approach of treating asthma and stimulates the development of new hypotheses. For patients with refractory asthma, bronchial themoplasty might become a real breakthrough, particularly for those with severe airway hyperresponsiveness," Bel wrote.

More information

The American Lung Association has more about asthma.

SOURCE: American Thoracic Society, news release, May 2006

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