Researchers from John Hopkins Medicine have successfully used microscopic man-made particles to help predict early signs of severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in patients.1

Thirty-three mucus samples were collected from patients who were active or former smokers. Eight of the patients had severe COPD, while 18 had mild to moderate COPD and seven of the smokers had no history of the disease. The team focused on the mucus found in the lungs, which has a similar structure to a water-filled sponge with small interconnected pores.1

Through an ultrasensitive camera, researchers traced the mucus and observed their movements, making it easier to track the speed of the nanoparticles as they diffused through each sample.1 The results showed that the mobility of the micro-inert nanoparticle (MIP) was hindered more in samples from patients with severe COPD, indicating that their structure is more restricted. 2

In addition, the nanoparticle behavior in the samples from patients with severe COPD was significant, as the pore size within the mucus is intended to shrink as COPD progresses.1

These findings suggest that the structure of the mucus could provide a new insight as to how COPD progresses and its level of severity.1

  1. Nanoparticles wiggling through mucus may predict severe COPD. EurekAlert! Website. Published September 30, 2019. Accessed September 30, 2019.
  2. Chisholm JF, Shenoy JK, Shade JK, et al. Nanoparticle diffusion in spontaneously expectorated sputum as a biophysical tool to probe disease severity in COPD. European Respiratory Journal. 2019; 54: 1900-088. doi: 10.1183/13993003.00088-2019