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Implantable Air Valves Help Some Emphysema Patients Breathe Easier

jan2016_3What if you were told that there was a new, experimental treatment for severe emphysema? Would you try it? First, let’s take a look at what its benefits are and how it works.

According to a new study out of University of Groningen in the Netherlands, the treatment is designed to replace more risky surgeries, such as Lung Volume Reduction Surgery, and involves placing one-way valves in airways to alleviate damaged lung tissue by giving healthier areas of the lung more breathing room. These valves “help patients to breathe easier and exercise longer”, said lead study author Karin Klooster, which “can relieve symptoms [and act as] a workable therapy”.

So, what’s the catch? Researchers say the technique “only works in patients whose badly-damaged lung tissue is isolated”. If air is sneaking in from healthier tissue, the treatment is not effective. Klooster also noted that because of this limitation, “only about one in 10 patients with severe emphysema would be candidates for the implanted valves”. Klooster continues to emphasize that although the group of those qualified for the surgery would but small, “the benefit would be real”.

To compare, “with the valves in place, patients released 21 percent more air in the first second when they tried to exhale. With standard care the increase was just 3 percent”, according to the results in the New England Journal of Medicine, where the study was published.

While the valves have not yet been approved for use in the U.S., they are being tested at 21 U.S. centers as part of a separate study using valves.