What is Emphysema?
The average person breathes in life-sustaining oxygen nearly 25,000 times per day, but for people with lung diseases this simple bodily function is a constant effort. One such lung disease is emphysema. Emphysema is one of the major obstructive lung diseases encompassed by the term chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Emphysema consists of the gradual destruction of the air sacs clustered like tiny grapes in the lungs, known as alveoli, resulting in increasing difficulty breathing. The alveoli are responsible for delivering oxygen to the bloodstream. As emphysema progresses, the inner walls of the alveoli are compromised, weakening their internal structure and hindering the delivery of oxygen to the bloodstream. Emphysema not only destroys the alveoli, it gradually destroys the elasticity of the airways leading to them. Shortness of breath and the constant struggle for air are familiar to emphysema sufferers.
There are a number of conditions classified as lung disease, and the symptoms and causes vary. Here are some of the most common symptoms found to be associated with emphysema:
- Severe or chronic coughing
- Shortness of breath
- Recurring infections
- Excess production of mucus in the lungs
Despite being currently incurable, emphysema can be treated. The first recommendation by any pulmonary physician is to advise individuals to stop smoking and stay away from smoke-filled locations. Many physicians also prescribe a combination of bronchodilators and steroids to help expand the airways, thus allowing more airflow to and from the lungs and reducing shortness of breath. Emphysema is also commonly treated with a series of pulmonary rehabilitation (aerobic exercise) and nutritional support. For people in the most severe stages of emphysema, supplemental oxygen is also used for treatment—ranging from occasional use to 24/7 use. In severe cases, a physician may suggest a lung transplant, but transplant opportunities are usually limited, and eligibility requirements are challenging. No currently available treatment improves lung function, but new, innovative treatment is now available to slow, or even halt the progression of the disease.
Cell Therapy for Emphysema
Autologous stem cells–that is, cells derived from the patient’s own body and found in adult blood or bone marrow, have the capacity to differentiate into many types of specialized cells. Cell treatment involves isolating adult stem cells from bone marrow blood tissue in the laboratory. After extraction of the cells from the patient’s body, they are isolated and reintroduced to the patient intravenously. The treatment is a minimally invasive and typically an outpatient procedure performed in a clinical setting under the supervision of medical professionals.