Paediatric pulmonologist Gerard Koppelman of the UMCG will receive a grant of €750,000 from Lung Foundation Netherlands. This funding will enable him to examine the role of genetic factors and living environment in diminished peak lung function in young adults. The aim of the study is threefold: identifying who is at increased risk of developing COPD in later life, determining how lung growth can be optimized and preventing people from developing COPD, if possible. The intended duration of the study is five years.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), one of the most common diseases in the Netherlands, is often diagnosed later in life. Therefore, COPD was thought to be caused by a more rapid decline in lung function in adults. However, in approximately 50% of all COPD patients, the disease results from a diminished peak lung function (i.e. lung function plateau) during young adulthood.
In this research project, Koppelman aims to determine the peak lung function in young adults and to identify a connection with environmental factors, living habits, genetic factors and DNA changes in nasal mucosa cells (so-called epigenetic changes). Based on these risk factors, Koppelman aims to identify the people whose peak lung function will become diminished in later life. Subsequently, he aims to assess the risk of developing COPD at an early stage, ascertain how to optimize lung growth and prevent the disease, if possible.
Koppelman’s research project is based on the PIAMA birth cohort, a unique group of almost 4,000 young Dutch adults monitored from birth by the University Medical Center Groningen, Utrecht University and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). The current age of this group of young adults is 22 to 23 years. Koppelman says: ‘Worldwide, only a few medical studies have been conducted in which children were monitored from before birth until adulthood. The PIAMA study yielded a host of data which I will use for my study. I would like to study the process of lung growth and understand why this process is suboptimal in some children. We may discover substances that enable us to predict which children will have a diminished lung function. On the other hand, we may also find substances which enable us to stimulate lung growth.’
In this study, the lung capacity will be measured and blood and DNA samples will be collected from approximately 3,000 PIAMA participants. They will also be asked to fill in a questionnaire. From birth, a large number of data on health and disease, lifestyle, lung function, allergies, asthma and genetic factors has been collected from them through questionnaires and medical examinations. Blood samples have also been frequently collected. It is also known to what extent they have been exposed to, for instance, air pollution and allergic stimuli. A new method will be used to detect any traces of air pollution, cleaning products and other toxic substances in their blood which may have detrimental effects on their lung function. Koppelman also aims to examine whether a coronavirus infection negatively impacts lung function.
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