Cigarette smoking produces no benefits for smokers, but not every smoker develops the same negative outcomes. Some develop lung cancer, some heart disease, still others the range of complications associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the third leading cause of death in the United States.
COPDGene, a nationwide NIH-funded study to determine why some smokers develop COPD and others do not, has just been renewed for another five years. The University of Iowa is one of 21 study centers and the leader in enrollment and retention. Dr. Alejandro Comellas, Clinical Associate Professor of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Occupational Medicine, is the site’s principal investigator.
The renewal will allow COPDGene to enter its next phase, completing its 10-year follow-up of the original 10,000-participant cohort. Researchers conducted a genome-wide association study meant to identify common genetic variants associated with COPD. They will attempt to develop biomarkers of disease progression and to focus on translating their findings into clinical practice. Participants initially received multiple chest CT scans and continue to complete semi-annual questionnaires for longitudinal studies. Researchers hope to better understand the disease process with the potential for earlier diagnosis, tempering its progression.
About 1,300 patients have been enrolled at the University of Iowa, the most representative rural population of any site, an important variable in the study. The bulk of this recruitment took place under the direction of Dr. Geoffrey McLennan while he was the PI from 2008 until his untimely passing in 2010. “It was because of Dr. McLennan’s commitment and effort that several investigators here have benefited from this cohort,” Dr. Comellas said. A number of publications and NIH grant awards have resulted from the volumes of data COPDGene has produced.
Dr. Comellas is working in collaboration with Dr. Eric Hoffman, Professor of Radiology, Internal Medicine, and Biomedical Engineering. He also cites the efforts of research coordinators Kim Sprenger, Fozia Ghafoor, Thomas Sardone, Marlee Wallace, Janet Keating, Harold Winnike, and Phyllis Pirrote.