Disease progression of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is variable, with some patients having a relatively stable course, while others suffer relentless progression leading to severe breathlessness, frequent acute exacerbations of COPD (AECOPD), respiratory failure and death. Radiological markers such as CT emphysema index, bronchiectasis and coronary artery calcification (CAC) have been linked with increased mortality in COPD patients. Molecular changes in lung tissue reflect alterations in lung pathology that occur with disease progression; however, lung tissue is not routinely accessible. Cell counts (including neutrophils) and mediators in induced sputum have been associated with lung function and risk of exacerbations. Examples of peripheral blood biological markers (biomarkers) include those associated with lung function (reduced CC-16), emphysema severity (increased adiponectin, reduced sRAGE), exacerbations and mortality [increased CRP, fibrinogen, leukocyte count, IL-6, IL-8, and tumor necrosis factor α (TNF-α)] including increased YKL-40 with mortality. Emerging approaches to discovering markers of gene-environment interaction include exhaled breath analysis [volatile organic compounds (VOCs), exhaled breath condensate], cellular and systemic responses to exposure to air pollution, alterations in the lung microbiome, and biomarkers of lung ageing such as telomere length shortening and reduced levels of sirtuins. Overcoming methodological challenges in sampling and quality control will enable more robust yet easily accessible biomarkers to be developed and qualified, in order to optimise personalised medicine in patients with COPD.
Keywords: Pulmonary disease; biological markers (biomarkers); blood; chronic obstructive; disease progression; lung; sputum.