NORTH PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, better known as COPD, is a growing medical problem that literally takes your breath away.
A possible treatment for one form of COPD - chronic bronchitis - is in final trials in Philadelphia.
About five years ago, Yolanda Tinsley just couldn't catch her breath.
"I walk and I'm out of breath. Go up the steps, I have to sit down," she recalls.
The diagnosis was chronic bronchitis, which affects nine million Americans.
It can come from smoking, vaping, airborne chemicals and pollution.
Tinsley had been a long-time smoker.
Inhalers and pulmonary rehab open airways and reduce inflammation.
But thoracic specialist Dr. Nathaniel Marchetti of Temple Health says they don't address the overproduction of mucus.
"The mucus collects in the lungs and it can become very sticky and thick and difficult to get out. And if it stays down there, it's going to start plugging smaller airways," says Dr. Marchetti.
That leads to flare-ups, with more shortness of breath, more coughing, more wheezing, and even more mucus.
Dr. Marchetti is now in the final Phase 3 trials of a new treatment called RheOx.
Under sedation, a bronchoscope is threaded down the throat into a patient's lung.
And a device pushed through it delivers pulsed energy to clogged airways.
"It's supposed to disrupt the cells lining in the airways, especially the mucus-producing cells, which are called goblet cells. And then they hopefully within the next few days will go back in a more normal fashion," says Dr. Marchetti.
Earlier Phase 2 research was very promising.
"It looks as though there is a decrease in the amount of mucus," he notes.
Each lung is done separately, a month apart.
In the trial, patients either get RheOx, or a sham treatment.
After a year of follow-up, those like Tinsley, who initially got the sham procedure, can get RheOx.
She's had one treatment, and can tell the difference
"Because on that side, I can get a deeper breath. And on the other side, it's like I'm drowning," Tinsley says.
Dr. Marchetti says it's not necessary to be a patient in the Temple system to get into the trial.
Patients in other health systems can still get scheduled for a screening.