Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a respiratory disease commonly known as chronic bronchitis or emphysema, is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide. 600 million people live with COPD and while researchers have yet to find any real treatment or cure, Grace Parraga of Robarts Research Institute at The University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, is using various imaging techniques to gain new insight into the disease.
Parraga is a scientist in the Imaging Research Laboratories at Robarts and recently recruited to the Departments of Medical Biophysics, Graduate Program in Biomedical Engineering, Medical Imaging and Oncology at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. Currently, Parraga and her collaborators at Western including Drs. David McCormack, Rob McFadden, Roya Etemad-Rezai and Giles Santyr hold two large grants valued at $2.5 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) in collaboration with the world-renowned Vancouver James Hogg Centre at St. Paul’s Hospital to characterize COPD using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and to compare three different types of lung imaging in COPD patients over time.
“The idea is that if we can understand the structural and functional imaging changes that happen over time, we can start to understand the patients in a different way, with the potential to change the way they are treated,” says Parraga.
Parraga and her collaborators believe that two major COPD groups exist: those with dysfunctional airways, and those with lung tissue damage. She says current methods of evaluating COPD don’t consider the differences imaging methods can detect and therefore these often are not predictive of how patients feel and how their disease progresses. The London-Vancouver collaboration directly addresses this shortcoming to lead the way in helping to categorize COPD patients using computed tomography (CT), MRI, and optical coherence tomography, to help improve patient treatment.