Public Release: 

Researchers at Penn study new airway bypass treatment to help emphysema sufferers breathe easier

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine


IMAGE: This image shows the normal lung tissue of a healthy patient. view more

Credit: Courtesy: Broncus Technologies, Inc.

PHILADELPHIA - Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine are now studying an investigational treatment that may offer a significant new, minimally-invasive option for those suffering from advanced widespread emphysema. The EASE (Exhale Airway Stents for Emphysema) trial focuses on a procedure called airway bypass that involves creating pathways in the lung for trapped air to escape -- and in turn, may relieve emphysema symptoms including shortness of breath.

Emphysema, most often brought on by smoking, affects an estimated 60 million people worldwide with more than 3 million sufferers in the United States. There is no cure. It's a chronic, progressive, and irreversible lung disease characterized by the destruction of lung tissue. The loss of the lungs' natural elasticity and the collapse of airways in the lung combine so that the lungs can no longer deflate to let air in. The patient is in a permanent state of "breathlessness" - sucking in rapid, shallow breaths. Even the most nominal physical activities become difficult for emphysema patients and many become dependent on oxygen therapy.

"There are limited treatment options right now for these patients who struggle for each breath," comments John Kucharczuk, MD, principal investigator, thoracic surgeon, and Assistant Professor of Surgery at Penn. "This new, cutting-edge, non-surgical procedure actually creates new pathways for airflow and could offer another option for those who would otherwise possibly spend years waiting on a lung transplant list."

During the airway bypass procedure, physicians first use a Doppler probe inserted through a flexible bronchoscope (a commonly used way to go through the mouth and into the lungs to examine the airways) to identify sites away from blood vessels. Then the physician creates new small pathways using a special needle to make small openings. Stents are then put in place to keep the new passageways open.

The procedure involves placing up to six Exhale® Drug-Eluting Stents - manufactured by Broncus Technologies, Inc. - to allow the trapped air in the lung to escape. Again, it is hoped this will deflate the lungs, by essentially creating a few new unobstructed air pathways, so that the patient can breathe more easily. The total time of the procedure is approximately one to two hours.

Daniel Sterman, MD, co-principal investigator of the study and Director of Interventional Pulmonology at Penn, states, "This experimental technique could be revolutionary as it is the only approach being examined right now which targets the population of emphysema patients whose disease has destroyed tissue throughout the lung -- and not just the upper lung zones. This technique would help those who do not appear to benefit from lung volume reduction surgery."

Sterman adds, "Given that emphysema is such a devastating disease associated with permanent destruction of the small air sacs (alveoli) which allow the lungs to function -- any new potential intervention could offer substantial relief to the millions of sufferers in this country."


This procedure - pioneered by Joel Cooper, MD, Chief of the Division of Thoracic Surgery at Penn -- is still under clinical investigation. Penn is now enrolling patients in this international, multi-center clinical trial. To learn more, call 215-662-6280 or 1-866-431-3273.

Editor's Notes:

Drs. John Kucharczuk and Daniel Sterman have no personal direct financial affiliation with Broncus Technologies, Inc. The study is sponsored by Broncus Technologies, Inc. Dr. Joel Cooper does have a financial interest in Broncus Technologies, Inc.

For more information about The Penn Lung Center, go on-line to:
John Kucharczuk, MD -- on-line bio:
Daniel Sterman, MD -- on-line bio:
For questions about the EASE trial, visit:

Images available upon request.

PENN Medicine is a $2.9 billion enterprise dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and high-quality patient care. PENN Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Penn's School of Medicine is ranked #2 in the nation for receipt of NIH research funds; and ranked #3 in the nation in U.S. News & World Report's most recent ranking of top research-oriented medical schools. Supporting 1,400 fulltime faculty and 700 students, the School of Medicine is recognized worldwide for its superior education and training of the next generation of physician-scientists and leaders of academic medicine.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System includes three hospitals [Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation's first hospital; and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center]; a faculty practice plan; a primary-care provider network; two multispecialty satellite facilities; and home care and hospice.

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