First Patient in United States Gets New Emphysema Treatment

A new treatment for emphysema is undergoing testing in the United States, after already getting approved in Europe and Israel. It is a foam that is sprayed into the lungs and is used to decrease inflammation in the lungs in people with severe emphysema. A man by the name of Perry Waldrop of Alabama jumped at the chance of being the first person in the US to undergo this new procedure.

Emphysema is a chronic lung condition that falls under the term of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and its characterized by the damaged alveoli, which are the tiny sacs in the lungs that transfer oxygen and carbon dioxide from the lungs to the bloodstream and vice versa. The alveoli in a person with emphysema are so damaged, that they are unable to exhale the carbon dioxide and inhale oxygen, resulting in lungs that have become too expanded. This condition is caused by smoking and about 4.9 million Americans are known to have this disease.

These larger than normal lungs will then put excessive pressure on the diaphragm, preventing it from rising and falling as it should, and making it even more difficult to breathe. This enlargement of the lungs due to emphysema can also cause the lungs to collapse if the enlargement is located around the tops of the lungs.

Someone with severe emphysema, like Mr. Waldrop, will very low amounts of energy because of the lack of oxygen in their blood stream. This condition is extremely dangerous for other parts of the body as well, especially the brain, which needs about 20% of the oxygen we breathe, and the heart, which will try to overcompensate for the lack of oxygen in the bloodstream and work itself to the point of heart failure. People who have severe COPD often use large amounts of oxygen therapy to make up for the way their lungs cannot inhale enough oxygen.

The substance used for this procedure is called “Aeri Seal” and it's actually a polymer that is apply to the lungs. To components to the polymer mix together on contact and harden to form a rubbery foam. This foam seals off the air sacs in the damaged area of the lung, which causes the lung to shrink back down to normal over time, and the foam shrinks and breaks down over time as well. When the lung has decrease back to its normal size, the diaphragm can work as its supposed to.

It's still too soon to see exactly how safe and and effective this procedure is, it is predicted to be safer than surgery to remove damaged areas of the lungs. Lung surgery on patients with emphysema has been known to be high risk and have complications down the line.

The patient undergoing the procedure is put under light anesthesia and it only takes about 45 minutes to perform. During the months after the procedure, the patient still uses oxygen therapy until a doctor can determine whether or not he still needs it.

The procedure took place in October of 2012 and as of February of 2013, Waldrop is on his way to recovery, already seeing a difference in how well he can breathe.

  • Sue S.

    "This condition is caused by smoking and about 4.9 million Americans are known to have this disease." Those who have never smoked in their lives can develop emphysema, caused by a genetic disorder called Alpha 1 Antitrypsin Deficiency. Alpha 1 (a disorder more common than Cystic Fibrosis) is often misdiagnosed. It is estimated that about 1 in every 2,500 Americans have Alpha 1. There are approximately 90,000 people living in the United States with
    undiagnosed Alpha 1 deficiency. On average, a diagnosis of Alpha 1 deficiency
    takes up to 7 years and 3 doctors for discovery.