Iloprost, a drug routinely used to treat pulmonary hypertension -- high blood pressure in the lungs -- can heal the lungs of ex-smokers, but provides no benefit to those who continue to smoke, Colorado researchers reported today at a San Francisco meeting of the International Assn. for the Study of Lung Cancer.
Dr. Robert Keith, a pulmonary medicine specialist at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine, and his colleagues performed lung biopsies on 152 people who had smoked at least a pack of cigarettes per day for at least 20 years. Half received oral iloprost and half a placebo. Ex-smokers who received the drug showed "a significant improvement in the signs of lung disease, " Keith reported.
Iloprost is a synthetic analog of the naturally occurring chemical prostacylin PGI2. It increases blood flow by dilating the vascular bed of the lungs, and presumably thereby improves healing. Studies in mice have shown that those with high levels of prostacyclin are less likely to contract lung cancer and live longer if they do contract it.
The team is now preparing a larger, phase III trial of the drug. Lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer of men and women. An estimated 219,000 Americans will be diagnosed with the disease this year and 159,000 will die from it.
-- Thomas H. Maugh II