Non-invasive assessment of ventilation maldistribution in lung disease using multiple breath inert gas washouts.
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Clinical research in cystic fibrosis (CF) requires study endpoints that are sensitive to airways disease, repeatable and non-invasive. Despite significant advances in the treatment of CF, lung function assessments continue to rely on the forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1). Although simple to perform, it lacks sensitivity, is difficult for younger subjects, and changes over time. An alternative method of assessing lung physiology is to derive measures of ventilation heterogeneity from inert gas washout tests. In early lung disease, measures of gas mixing appear to be more sensitive than spirometry. In addition, since only tidal breathing is required, they are more physiological and are more straightforward for younger subjects. Widespread use has been impaired by the lack of a robust and cost effective gas analyser technology. The work presented in this thesis concerns the adaptation, validation and then use of a novel gas analyser (Innocor) in a clinical system for the performance of multiple breath washouts. Lung clearance index (LCI), a simple measure of ventilation heterogeneity, has been calculated from washouts in 52 adults with CF and 50 healthy controls. LCI was more sensitive to disease than FEV1 in CF, being elevated in 11 of the 12 CF patients with normal spirometry. In healthy subjects, LCI has been shown to be repeatable and reproducible, with a narrow range of normal that is stable over a wide age range. In a separate study of 19 patients, LCI has also been shown to improve with treatment of an exacerbation in CF. Correlation with changes in other biochemical (serum CRP, peripheral blood white cell count, sputum IL-8, sputum neutrophil) clinical (symptom score) or structural (computed tomography) markers was poor. Short term change in LCI has also been demonstrated in CF patients in response to chest physiotherapy, although there was considerable heterogeneity of response in terms of both LCI and volume of lung ventilated by tidal breathing (as measured by washout functional residual capacity). In addition to LCI, multiple breath phase III slope analysis has been performed on washouts of CF patients and healthy controls, and this has been compared to other measures of lung physiology. Proposed measures of convective and diffusive gas mixing have been shown to be unreliable in CF. These studies have also been the first to demonstrate multi-centre use of washout tests as endpoints. The technology described here offers the possibility of a simple and reliable system for performing multiple breath washouts, though at present it is not available commercially. The studies have added to the understanding of the utility and reliability of washout tests, as well as some of their limitations. It is hoped that in future LCI will be an important clinical endpoint in therapeutic intervention studies in CF, and that it will also offer new ways to follow changes in lung physiology in other diseases.