COPD is a severe lung disease with over 500,000 patients in The Netherlands alone. COPD is characterized by chronic inflammation of the upper airways (chronic bronchitis) as well as tissue destruction of the alveoli (emphysema), together leading to a progressive decrease in lung function. Less known is the fact that over three quarters of all COPD patients develops symptoms outside the lungs. These co-morbidities can range from cardiovascular diseases, to diabetes or osteoporosis. The prevalence of co-morbidities in COPD patients is much higher than may be expected based on their age, lifestyle and smoking status. To date, it is still unknown why COPD patients are so much more prone to develop these underlying diseases compared to the general population.
Dr. Pouwels will use a large and unique patient cohort that includes information and samples of more than 1000 COPD patients as well as state-of-the-art lab techniques, such as the multi-organ-on-chip model to study the biological processes underlying the development of co-morbidities in COPD patients. He hypothesizes that detrimental danger signals are chronically released by damaged lung cells in COPD patients, which can then travel via the bloodstream to secondary organs, where they can contribute to the development of a variety of complaints, depending on genetic susceptibility. Dr. Pouwels will map out which danger signals are released into the bloodstream of COPD patients with various co-morbidities and identify the conditions that can contribute to the release of these danger signals. Ultimately, these danger signal profiles can potentially be used as target for novel treatments for COPD co-morbidities.