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University of Iowa News Release

Aug. 12, 2004

UI Researchers Studying New Treatment For People With Emphysema

Ron Fairbanks just longed to breathe freely once again.

For more than 11 years, Fairbanks slowly lost his ability to breathe normally as emphysema steadily damaged his lungs. He eventually needed to use supplemental oxygen as his condition worsened.

"My lungs were pretty well shot," Fairbanks said. "I couldn't walk very far without having to stop and catch my breath. My physical activity was really limited."

Researchers at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics are studying a new approach to treating people such as Fairbanks affected by severe emphysema that they hope will improve their ability to breathe more normally.

The study involves the use of a device called an endobronchial valve. Physicians implant the miniature valves in the diseased portion of the lungs to restore and maximize airflow to the healthier portions of the organs. Investigators call the study the Endobronchial Valve for Emphysema Palliation Trial, or VENT.

"Patients with advanced emphysema have very few treatment options. Previous studies show that lung volume reduction surgery can offer relief by removing the diseased portion of the lung," said Geoffrey McLennan, M.D., professor of internal medicine in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and the lead investigator for VENT at UI Hospitals and Clinics. "Although lung reduction surgery can be helpful to patients, it is invasive and its risks can outweigh the potential benefits."

VENT research teams will enroll 270 participants across the United States and Europe in the multi-center, randomized trial. One-half of the study participants will receive standard optimal medical management and the other half will receive the valves, which are about the size of the eraser on a pencil.

"The valves only allow air to flow one way, which forces the oxygen to the healthy portion of the lung," explained David Riker M.D., a physician on the UI research team. "The implantation procedure is minimally invasive and may pose fewer risks for the patient and should lessen recovery time. We can even remove the valves if the need arises."

Ron Fairbanks credits the valves with a significant improvement in his quality of life. "It's been really great. I'm really excited. My wife and others have noticed that I can walk a lot farther. I hope I can even get out to hunt and fish again," he said.

Emphysema is a debilitating disease that affects more than three million Americans. Smoking is the primary cause of the disorder. As emphysema progresses, an irreversible breakdown of lung tissue occurs, reducing the amount of lung tissue available to gas exchange and impairing the normal inflation and deflation of the lung. Eventually, patients feel constantly out of breath.

For more information about the VENT research study, contact Kim Sprenger at 319-353-8862.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at

STORY SOURCE: Joint Office for Marketing and Communications, University of Iowa Health Care, 200 Hawkins Drive, Room E110 GH, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1009

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Moore, 319-356-3945,