Emphysema affects an estimated 60 million people worldwide with more than 3 million sufferers in the United States. There is no cure for emphysema, but now researchers are holding out hope for these patients.

On December 17, researchers at Sarasota Memorial Health Care System announced the start of the EASE (Exhale Airway Stents for Emphysema) Trial, an international, multicenter clinical trial to investigate airway bypass, a procedure that creates pathways in the lung for trapped air to escape and in turn, relieve emphysema symptoms, including shortness of breath.

During the procedure, physicians will use a flexible bronchoscope to go through the mouth into the airways. There the physician will create new small pathways and place a drug-eluting stent to allow the trapped air in the lung to escape. Patients could see an immediate improvement in dyspnea.

“We are excited to be part of this study because currently treatment options for the emphysema patients are very limited and many patients have a very poor quality of life,” states Kirk Voelker, MD, principal investigator of the study at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. “By creating new pathways for airflow with the airway bypass procedure, we hope to reduce hyperinflation and improve lung function. If patients can breathe easier it is likely to improve their quality of life.”

 “The airway bypass procedure could be an excellent option for those who may be considering lung transplant or who may not be suitable candidates for lung transplant surgery, which is one of the only other treatment options available for patients with this type of emphysema,” states Todd Horiuchi, MD and subinvestigator of the study.

Although the procedure is still under clinical investigation, early data suggest it may hold promise for patients with emphysema.