You likely have heard of COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder, as it is the 3rd most frequent cause of death in the world. This is an area of focus of our research because as prominent as this disease is, the cause of the disease in a large percentage of patients remains unknown. Diagnosis is most often attributed to cigarette smoking; however, since the cause is unknown in so many patients, research and discovery is needed for this disease. It is a chronic lung ailment characterised by a persistent blockage of airflow from the lungs. It is life-threatening and there is no cure.

Recent evidence has come to light that shows how indoor air pollution due to biomass fuels does cause COPD. For patients who are diagnosed with COPD that do not have a history of smoking, research is being done to find the cause. At this time, there is no strong link between air pollution and COPD but we do know that ambient air pollution does have negative effects for those who already have a lung disease like asthma.

The Head of Respiratory Research at the George Institute of Global Health, Professor Norbert Berend, is in the process of designing a study in Australia and China seeking to establish whether or not air pollution could be a cause of COPD. This study would determine whether populations living in areas of high pollution experience a faster rate of decline in Forced Expired Volume or FEV. FEV is a respiratory function that measures the forced expired volume in one second. The study also seeks to determine if people who are susceptible to the effects of air pollution can be identified before lasting and damaging symptoms occur and also to identify the pollutants responsible for COPD symptoms.

This study will incorporate some ground breaking tactics because for the first time in air pollution research, this study will use state-of-the-art pollution and lung function measurements. The measurement benchmarks were established in the participating centres in Beijing and Sydney. This study is set to utilise some sensitive tests of small airway function and biomarkers of inflammation to predict accelerated loss of lung function when the patient first enters the study. In addition to these new measurements, the study will be able to see if there is a connection between ambient air pollution and COPD. Probably most importantly, the study will pioneer a new method to identify “at risk” individuals moving forward. Early identification can lead to early treatment which can slow the progress of COPD in these individuals as well as instituting better preventative strategies for avoiding the inhalation of polluted air. Finally, the identification of specific pollutants can also lead to restrictions and reduction of their use.


Air pollution is a growing concern in two of the largest countries in the world, India and China. This illustrates the need for establishing a connection between air pollution and this chronic disease responsible for millions of deaths worldwide each year. Identifying the specific causes of COPD and then reducing the use of those agents can greatly improve the outlook for this #3 global killer.