Personalized medicine was a key theme here at the European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress 2015, especially for complicated diseases like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and interstitial lung fibrosis.
"We're using platforms that measure genes and proteins and metabolomic consequences of the disease, and trying to work backward from those profiles to mechanistic pathways. We've got new ways of getting at these complex diseases; it's going to be quite a major part of the respiratory research activity at the meeting," Stephen Holgate, MD, chair of the ERS scientific council, told Medscape Medical News.
Late-breaking abstracts on therapies for asthma and COPD were highlights of the first day of the conference, which was expected to attract approximately 20,000 attendees to the 435 scientific and educational sessions.
Lung cancer was another focus. "A lot is going on in the lung cancer area, with quite a lot of new targeted therapies. The whole personalized medicine agenda is quite interesting," said Kate Hill, PhD, senior research fellow at the University of Leeds and director of the June Hancock Mesothelioma Fund in the United Kingdom.
"That is exciting because lung cancer has been a little out of the realm of ERS for the past few years," said Bettina Korn, RGN, MSc, respiratory clinical nurse specialist and end-of-life care coordinator at St. James's Hospital in Dublin, Ireland.
Pediatric lung health was also highlighted, and research on the subtyping of wheezing in young children was presented. "The role of viral infections is a prominent part of that, but gene–environment interactions in children might also lead to the onset of asthma," said Dr. Holgate. A new technology to measure airway response in young children was also discussed.
The theme of air pollution carried over from last year's conference in Munich.
Smog and Airway Diseases
Investigations into the mechanisms behind injury due to air pollution, especially in pregnant women and young children, and the way exposure to air pollution can lead to asthma and other airway diseases was be presented.
"It's imposed on an individual, unlike smoking, which you can avoid, so it affects 100% of the population. We're interested in doing more on air pollution to create a greater imperative for local governments to take more responsibility," said Dr. Holgate.
A symposium featured a debate about the pros and cons of e-cigarettes, which will be a topic of an upcoming ERS position statement. "Is it a wolf in sheep's clothing, or a sheep in wolf's clothing? I think this conference will help the organization firm up its position," he explained.
Epigenetics got some attention as well, including how to use the pathway to manipulate gene–environment interactions. "There are some novel therapies in that domain, starting in cancer, but also going into pulmonary fibrosis. That's a totally new therapeutic area," Dr. Holgate added.
Tuberculosis was addressed during oral and poster sessions. Much of the research comes from practitioners in developing countries, where conditions are often difficult and tuberculosis rates are much higher, said Korn, who is looking forward to hearing more about their work.
"It's kind of inspirational for those of us who work in much more affluent healthcare systems," she said. "Half our patients in Ireland come from high TB incidence countries, so engaging doctors from those countries really helps us manage and treat the condition, and gives us a better understanding of where people are coming from."
Giving Patients a Voice
The ERS has made it a priority to include the patient voice at the conference. There were sessions that featured patient advocates and addressed efforts to include patient input in therapeutic development and clinical trial design.
"I really love that about ERS. They're really moving into that area of joint decision-making with patients," Korn said.
"They have done a tremendous job of getting patients integrated into the conference. There's been a big change in the past 5 or 6 years," Dr. Hill explained. Patient organizations took part in workshops and presenting posters, "which is a huge move forward. It's quite important because, at the end of the day, if research is going to be relevant to patients, you need their voices to be heard."
It is things like this that keep the ERS conference "young and fresh and interesting," said Korn.