Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) will be leading a multisite study to assess the role of beta blockers in individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This project will be funded by the United States Department of Defense through an $11 million grant.
COPD is the third-most deadly disease in the United States and is one of the most costly chronic conditions when it comes to medical spending, disability and missed work. It is mainly a lung disease that results in difficulties in breathing, but those with COPD are at great risk of heart disease as well. Beta blockers are a common approach for treating heart disease, but in patients who suffer from COPD they remain unused because of safety concerns.
“Many physicians have been reluctant to prescribe beta blockers for patients who also have COPD due to concerns that they could cause constriction of the airways in the lungs, and worsen lung function. This practice continues despite the fact that the drugs are usually tolerated well in patients with COPD, and more recent data has been published suggesting that they may also reduce the risk of exacerbations,” explained Mark Dransfield, primary researcher of the study and professor.
The common exacerbations related to COPD are frequently due to bacterial or viral infections or because of exposure to higher levels of pollution, said Dransfield. However, in some cases infections occur or get worse because of an underlying cardiovascular condition. Exacerbations cause over 500,000 hospitalizations per year and highly increase the overall costs of the condition.
Dransfield, director of the UAB Lung Health Center as well, added: “The objective of this study is to determine whether beta blockers can reduce the risk of acute exacerbations of COPD and whether patients can take the drug without major side effects. If beta blockers are shown to reduce COPD exacerbations, it will provide a totally new approach to treat patients with this chronic disabling disease.”
About 1,100 COPD patients will be enrolled and assessed for 12 months and will receive a beta blocker, metoprolol, or a placebo. Researchers will assess toleration of the blocker and if it decreases the risk of exacerbations in comparison to the placebo.
Victor Thannickal who is the director of the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine concluded: “This is an important research study, as a large placebo-controlled trial is needed to definitively prove that beta blockers are safe in patients with COPD and that they do in fact reduce the risk of exacerbations. We’re gratified that the DOD selected UAB, the Lung Health Center and Dr. Dransfield to take the lead role in a study that has important implications for the treatment of COPD.”