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University of British Columbia Team Lands C$7.2M to Develop COPD Dx

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Two investigators at the University of British Columbia have received C$7.2 million (US$6.8 million) in funding to develop a biomarker-based blood test to identify patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder who are most at risk for lung attacks.

The four-year project, which will use samples from 1,000 COPD patients, is being funded by Genome BC, Genome Canada, Genome Quebec, the PROOF Centre of Excellence at UBC, and the St. Paul's Hospital Foundation, Genome BC said on Wednesday. The researchers are using genomic technologies to identify the biomarkers, but the partners didn't specify which tools are being employed in the research.

The two UB investigators leading this project are Don Sin, a professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia and a respirologist at St. Paul’s Hospital, and Raymond Ng, chief informatics officer at the PROOF Centre.

A test that can identify patients who have the highest risk for lung attacks, those with the most active form of the disease, and help physicians differentiate these COPD attacks from other conditions could lead to fewer attacks, hospital stays, and emergency room visits, Genome BC said.

COPD is the fourth-leading cause of death in Canada, the leading cause of hospital admissions, and average hospital stays last around 10 days at a cost of C$10,000 per stay. The total annual cost of these admissions is estimated to be over C$2 billion per year.

Currently, there is no advance warning for these attacks, but if they are caught early they can be treated effectively with medication, Genome BC said.

"At present, we blindly treat all patients the same way regardless of how active their disease is because we have no test that can tell us about disease intensity or activity. This research will help us find a simple blood test that can provide critical information about disease activity and hence guide rational treatment therapies for patients," Sin said in a statement.

The ultimate goal for this test will be to ensure that patients who need preventative drugs will receive them, and that those who do not are not prescribed unnecessary drugs and can avoid their possible side effects.