Meet the lung researcher: James

Dr James Dodd at University of Bristol: Why is mental ability badly affected in people with COPD?

Why do we need this study?

Reduced mental ability, affecting thinking, problem solving and memory, is common in people with COPD. Although often mild, even unnoticed at first, it can gradually make daily life very difficult. Eventually, it leads to worse health, more time in hospital and a shorter life.

Previous research with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans suggests that, in the brains of people with COPD, small blood vessels are blocked. We need more detailed research to see whether this plays an important part in affecting their mental abilities.

What is involved?

We will recruit 30 people with COPD and 25 smokers without the condition, and give them a short paper test of mental abilities. We will use MRI scans to investigate brain structure and blood flow, looking for signs of previous micro-haemorrhages. Using heart MRI scans, we will look for evidence of vascular disease (damage to blood vessels). We will test their eyes to examine the blood vessels of their retinas, and take urine samples to test their kidneys.

We will then test for differences between COPD patients and healthy smokers; and explore any links between reduced mental ability and abnormalities on brain scans and any other signs of diseased blood vessels.

What do you hope to achieve?

Findings from this study could, ultimately, lead to ways to prevent, delay or treat this condition, to improve the health of people with COPD, reduce hospital admissions and prolong lives through:

  • increased use of the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA test) to diagnose reduced mental ability in COPD, leading to better support for patients and fewer hospital admissions
  • earlier diagnosis of the condition, or the risk of developing it, through commonly used retinal photography and urine tests for protein leak
  • clinical trials to test the potential benefits to this condition of existing drugs such as angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, calcium channel blockers and statins