Healthy living

Radio waves used to treat asthma

Radio waves used to treat asthma Pioneering procedure tested

UK doctors have used a pioneering treatment to help a woman with asthma breathe more easily.

The procedure - called bronchial thermoplasty - uses heat to "melt away" muscle in the airways.

Doctors at the University Hospital of South Manchester inserted tiny wire probes into the lungs of a female asthma patient. These were used to emit 10-second bursts of radio waves which generate heat.

The radio waves travel through the airway's thin lining without scarring, while heating the muscle underneath to 149F (65C).

The heat specifically damages the muscle cells which don’t recover while leaving the other tissues undamaged.

The patient, a middle aged mother from Manchester, was treated on Friday, and has recovered enough to return to work, the doctors said.

Dr Rob Niven, a specialist in respiratory medicine at the hospital who led the team, said: "Bronchial thermoplasty is the first non-drug treatment for asthma and it may be a new option for patients with severe asthma who have symptoms despite use of drug therapies.

"The operation went according to plan and our patient has responded well. It will be a little while before we are able to say it's been a complete success, but I am cautiously optimistic.”

Clinical trials of bronchial thermoplasty had already taken place in Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle, Leicester, Birmingham and London. The results of the trial suggest the technique is safe and significantly reduces attacks in people with moderate to severe asthma.

More than five million people in the UK suffer from asthma, including 1.4 million children. It causes 70,000 hospital admissions and 1,400 deaths each year.

This article was published on Wed 8 June 2011

Image © Ken Hurst -

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