Partnership has millions of people breathing easier

Catherine McCoy is thrilled to be doing something she hasn’t done in quite some time.

“I can actually start sleeping lying down again. I’m so used to having to sleep sitting up,” McCoy said.

McCoy was part of study at Western’s Robarts Research Institute involving individuals suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other mucus-producing lung diseases. She helped test a new device developed by London-based Trudell Medical International that has been shown to improve breathlessness and move mucus.

“I find I can actually breathe much better and there is less pressure on my lungs,” McCoy said.

Her relief is thanks, in part, to the Aerobika* Oscillating Positive Expiratory Pressure (OPEP) Therapy System, created in London, and tested at Western. The new device took centre stage at an event Tuesday spotlighting the partnership between Western and Trudell.

Mitch Baran, Trudell CEO, said the Aerobika* System is a drug-free, handheld device that could help a significant portion of the almost 600 million COPD patients and others with severe respiratory disease around the world.

“We know these patients have difficulty breathing, which has a significant affect on their lives,” said Baran, HBA ’59, whose company develops and manufactures respiratory-management products. “It’s a significant opportunity for us to associate ourselves with the scientists here at Robarts. With their technique of using imaging in real time with the patients who were part of the study, our collaboration was a significant and an outstanding example of industry and a university working together.”

Simply stated, the device oscillates to create short bursts of expiratory resistance to thin, dislodge and/or move mucus to the upper airways, where it can be coughed out. It is currently available at pharmacies across Canada, with plans to market it worldwide over the next few months. It has already received regulatory approval in the United States, Mexico and Europe.

The Aerobika* was tested by Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry Drs. David McCormack and Grace Parraga, along with their team of undergraduate and graduate students, led by PhD candidate Sarah Svenningsen and MSc candidate Gregory Paulin.
Initial study results confirmed participants using it were able to more easily move mucus up and out of the lungs, which allowed for improved breathing and quality of life.

“It’s a simple device, but this is why we have engineers, to develop things such as this,” said McCormack, program director of Schulich’s Division of Respirology, who led the study. “This was something we definitely thought would be effective and potentially going to be helpful for so many patients, who are able to do it (treatment) themselves on their own time.”

Baran said drug treatment is often the preferred method, but may not be completely effective in achieving adequate airway clearance. Each patient’s COPD – be it chronic bronchitis, emphysema or any other lung disease – is unique and may need a variety of therapies, he added.

And the simplicity of the design is what intrigues Baran.

“When they (designers) looked at this, the simplicity of the design was key, because the patient wants something that’s not complicated to use,” Baran said. “This device will need to be cleaned over time, so our team was so clever that comes apart in four pieces and can be tossed in the dishwasher.

“It’s that kind of simplicity that really makes a product good.”

Baran said the best way to determine a product’s success is by going straight to the source.

“I use it quite a bit, whenever needed – when I’m out and want to get things moving in my lungs,” McCoy said. “If I’m at a show, and my lungs feel really tight, I can’t breathe and start to choke, it’s really embarrassing. I use this before and it helps me tremendously. So I can live my life.”