Indigenous lung study ‘a call to arms’ : expert

Thursday, 28 May 2015

The findings of a recent study on lung health in Indigenous Australians should serve as a call to arms for all respiratory researchers, an expert says.

Professor Graham Hall a respiratory scientist at the Telethon Kids Institute in Western Australia was commenting on a study from the Kimberley region of Australia that found COPD was no more prevalent in Australian indigenous populations than non-indigenous populations.

Lead author of the study Nathania Cooksley from Cairns Hospital said their findings confirmed previous research showing that Aboriginal Australians had small lung volumes compared to non-indigenous Australians.

It was these smaller lung volumes that may reduce respiratory reserve and increase the chance that an intercurrent illness would be mislabeled as an exacerbation of COPD, Cooksley told the limbic in an interview.

The research team hypothesised that the small lung volumes were due to socioeconomic and environmental risk factors more than genetic factors.

However in an editorial published this week Professor Graham Hall said that although the pre-and post-natal environment will play some role in the lower lung function in otherwise healthy Indigenous Australians there was as yet no evidence that that it could account for the differences reported by Cooksley and her colleagues. 

“As such, the spirometry derived outcomes of this study should be treated with caution until such time as accurate reference ranges in Aboriginal peoples are available,” he wrote in Respirology.

The study should serve as a call to arms for all respiratory researchers, he said.

“It reflects poorly on us all that we cannot, with any confidence, define the normal range of lung function in Aboriginal Australians and that investigators and healthcare professionals are forced to inappropriate predicted values for both research and and clinical lung function testing,” he concluded.



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