Health Watch - Breakthrough For Fatal Lung Disease

"I had been short of breath. I thought it was due to a medication I was taking," Page says.

It wasn't. Page has pulmonary hypertension -- a fatal disease.

"Most commonly, the disease is rapidly progressive such that the survival is only about 50 percent at three years if left untreated," says Michael Kutryk, M.D., a cardiologist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

Pulmonary hypertension is a serious, often fatal disease that causes the lung's delicate blood vessels to become smaller and disappear. Eventually, the heart has to work so hard to get enough oxygen-rich blood to the lungs that many patients die of heart failure.

And there are no therapies or treatments now that are designed to replace those blood vessels," Dr. Kutryk says.

Given the dim prognosis, Dr. Kutryk is excited about a new therapy that could save lives.

"We're hoping that we can slow down the progression, halt the progression and, in fact, we feel confident that we may be able to reverse the disease in most incidents," Dr. Kutryk says.

In the first ever trial of a gene-cell therapy for any cardiovascular disease, doctors take specialized cells from the patient's blood and grow them in the lab. The cells are altered with a gene that promotes healing in the vessels and are injected back into the patient.

"We're certainly seeing positive results at the moment, but we expect to see much better results as we increase the doses," Dr. Kutryk says.

Page was the first patient to get the therapy. Her disease is stable, and her spirits are up.

"It's giving me hope that things are going ahead, and they are doing things that are working, and they're working on it ... and there is promise," Page says.

The therapy is currently under study in Toronto and Montreal. Dr. Kutryk says the therapy could pave the way for a new approach to treat heart, lung and kidney failure as well as cancer and emphysema.


Julie Saccone
Public Relations
St. Michael's Hospital

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