Using stents to help emphysema patients

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
February 11, 2008 9:00:00 PM PST
For some people, every breath they take requires intense effort.Now, a new treatment is helping them like never before.

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg.

Smoking causes most cases of emphysema.

There is a type of surgery to remove the diseased lung that can help a small number of patients. But now, doctors are experimenting with a treatment that may help greater numbers of patients.

Sixty-two year-old Susan Clark has emphysema from smoking cigarettes. She needs oxygen just to do the simple things.

"I can't climb a flight of stairs without sitting on the bed when I get up there," she said. "Basic duties in my home that I could always do, my husband has taken on most of that."

For patients with severe disease, such as Susan, new tiny devices may help. They're placed directly in the lung's airways.

"You allow the lungs to function better by either letting the air out through stents or redirecting the flow of air to the better lung," said Dr. David Ost, of NYU Medical Center.

Emphysema destroys the walls between the honeycomb of tiny air sacs in the lungs. It leaves big air-filled spaces that can't bring oxygen to the blood.

Emphysema patients can't empty their lungs normally. It's like taking a deep breath and not being able to exhale.

In the new procedure, a tiny stent allows the trapped air to escape. Doctors use a long scope with a camera to drill holes in the air passage walls, then keep the holes open with the stents. Air can now pass out and in. A tiny valve can also be put in the airway. It lets trapped air out, and no inhaled air in. The inhaled air goes into the remaining normal lung areas.

"This is research," Dr. Ost said. "We hope and we're cautiously optimistic. But it is definitely research. It is cutting-edge and we'll have to see."

Dr. Ost is doing a study in emphysema patients comparing putting in the tiny devices to doing nothing. He's still looking for volunteers. If you're interested or know someone with the illness, information can be found by calling 212-263-0449 or visiting