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Muscle wasting in COPD - project introduction

Skeletal muscles are the muscles that support and move the skeleton, and the dysfunction and wasting of these muscles is one of the most significant effects of COPD, having an important impact on how a patient will deteriorate.

What is the project?

Muscle dysfunction is characterised by: a) malfunction of the muscle; and, b) loss of muscle mass. Some COPD patients lose muscle mass, which has been shown to have a significant impact on quality of life and survival. However, we do not fully understand why  muscle dysfunction occurs.

It is well known that muscles change with age. Tests in animals have shown that changes in their lungs, similar to those of COPD in humans, also occur with age. Our research question asks whether premature ageing could explain muscle dysfunction/wasting in COPD patients. We will explore this by measuring several markers of ageing in 20 people with COPD (with normal and low muscle mass) in comparison with 10 age and gender-matched healthy people without COPD.Gaining more insight into the molecular mechanisms that lead to muscle dysfunction/wasting may permit the development of new treatment regimes and more tailored management of the disease for individual patients.

What significance does it have for people with COPD?

COPD is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide, claiming 2.75 million lives a year. It is a progressive deterioration in lung function resulting from chronic airway inflammation. COPD also affects the muscle system of the body causing muscle dysfunction/wasting and has already been extensively studied.

Our research will provide data on what happens in the muscles as a result of COPD by finding biomarkers for injury, inflammation, stress, loss of condition and cell death in the muscles. Although research shows that stress and inflammation occur in the muscles of people with COPD, especially during exacerbations, we do not yet fully understand how the disease process of muscle dysfunction occurs.

The results of this research project may provide new insights in explaining differences in the development of COPD between individuals and opportunities to improve outcomes for patients.

What do you hope to achieve from the project?

The results of this research project will be submitted for publication in high impact specialist and general medical journals, and the findings will be presented to learned societies such as the European Respiratory Society and the American Thoracic Society. We aim to communicate the Project’s conclusions to the public entities responsible for health policies.