Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive disease of the lungs characterised by chronic inflammation, obstruction of airways, and destruction of the parenchyma (emphysema). These changes gradually impair lung function and prevent normal breathing. In 2002, COPD was the fifth leading cause of death, and is estimated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to become the third by 2020. Cigarette smokers are thought to be the most at risk of developing COPD. However, recent studies have shown that people with life-long exposure to biomass smoke are also at high risk of developing COPD. Most common in developing countries, biomass fuels such as wood and coal are used for cooking and heating indoors on a daily basis. Women and children have the highest amounts of exposures and are therefore more likely to develop the disease. Despite epidemiological studies providing evidence of the causative relationship between biomass smoke and COPD, there are still limited mechanistic studies on how biomass smoke causes, and contributes to the progression of COPD. This review will focus upon why biomass fuels are used, and their relationship to COPD. It will also suggest methodological approaches to model biomass exposure in vitro and in vivo.
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