Threats to lung health have increased in recent years due to climate change and related air pollution, with more than 120 million Americans reported to be living in an area with poor air quality, according to the American Lung Association (ALA). In Vermont, higher-than-average adult smoking rates and teen vaping contribute to the lung disease burden, with more than 80,000 residents living with chronic lung diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).
At an event held May 17, 2023, the University of Vermont’s Vermont Lung Center
and the ALA announced Vermont’s participation as one of 35 sites across the country conducting a first-of-its-kind large-scale study of millennial lung health. Called the ALA Lung Health Cohort Research Study, the multi-site clinical trial will recruit and track 4,000 young adults (ages 25-35) at the age of peak lung health, with a goal of obtaining a clear picture of lung health across geography and demography. Scientists at the trial sites will follow these millennials for five years after their initial interviews to evaluate how their environment, lifestyle, and physical activity habits affect respiratory health.
Speakers at the May 17 event included Anne Dixon, M.A., B.M., B.Ch., Lung Health Cohort co-investigator, Vermont Lung Center director, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care chief, professor and interim chair of medicine, and chair of the ALA’s Scientific Advisory Committee; Charles Irvin, Ph.D., principal investigator for the Lung Health Cohort at UVM and professor of medicine; and Lung Health Cohort study participants Chloe Housenger, Sebastian Ventrone, and Sarah Caffry.
“Historically, lung health has been studied only after the appearance of chronic lung disease,” said Charles Irvin, Ph.D., principal investigator for the Lung Health Cohort and professor of medicine at UVM. “There is a critical need to better understand how a young, healthy adult’s lung function declines over time,” he said, adding, “We really don’t know what we should be measuring in terms of assessing lung disease. We hope that in 20, 30, 40 years’ time, when you go to the doctor, we’ll have measures of lung health that will have come out of this study.”
Vermont residents experience a higher-than-average rate of new lung cancer cases, Irvin stated.
The Lung Health Cohort Study will be conducted through the ALA’s Airways Clinical Research Centers
(ACRC) Network. ACRC is the largest national non-profit clinical network dedicated to asthma and COPD research. UVM’s Vermont Lung Center has been part of the ACRC Network since 1999.
Each participant will be tracked for five years on measures of lung function, respiratory symptoms, and information including where they live, where and what they do for work, as well as health behaviors, fitness, biomarkers, and chest imaging. This study will use low-dose CT scans, which will show any signs of early or intermediate lung injury or abnormalities. Clinicians can use these to build a library of lung images in various stages of health and disease.
The longitudinal study is made possible through a $24.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. As the study continues, the goal is to renew the grant so scientists can continue to follow study participants for the rest of their lives.