New Technique Identified Lung Changes

The scientists used a special type of magnetic resonance imaging to detect micro structural changes in the lungs. They found structural alterations in asthmatics which, according to them, contribute to a new understanding of the pathophysiology of asthma.

The study involved 14 healthy volunteers and 14 patients with difficult-to-treat asthma. The research team polarised helium-3 to make it visible for MR imaging. Then the research subjects inhaled the polarised helium-3 gas, and MR images of the lung were obtained. These images measured how far the helium atoms could move in the lung.

Researchers found that the helium-3 atoms moved a greater distance in the lungs of patients with asthma than in healthy subjects, indicating that there are subtle lung structural differences between asthmatics and healthy volunteers.

“We had expected to see the opposite effect in asthma due to narrowing of airways. Our unexpected results, however, may reflect alterations at the level of the alveoli or smallest bronchi,” says Chengbo Wang of University of Virginia Health System. Although these findings require more study, he says they may be the reason why some asthmatics are difficult to treat.

He also thinks they may be related to “remodeling” in asthma – permanent alterations in lung tissue caused by the disease. “This study raises new questions about our understanding of asthma,” says Wang.; Source: University of Virginia Health System