Indexed on: 11 Jul '14Published on: 11 Jul '14Published in: CHEST®
Bronchial thermoplasty (BT) involves the application of radiofrequency energy to visible proximal airways to selectively ablate airway smooth muscle. BT is the first nonpharmacologic interventional therapy approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for severe asthma. This approval was based on the results of the pivotal Asthma Intervention Research (AIR)-2 trial, which is the only randomized, double-blind, sham-controlled trial of BT. The primary end point of the AIR-2 trial was improvement in the Asthma Quality of Life Questionnaire (AQLQ). The results of the AIR-2 trial have generated enormous interest, controversy, and confusion regarding the true efficacy of BT for severe asthma. Current marketing of BT highlights its use for patients with "severe" asthma, which is interpreted by most practicing clinicians as meaning oral corticosteroid dependence, frequent exacerbations, or a significantly reduced FEV1 with a poor quality of life. Did the AIR-2 trial include patients with a low FEV1, oral steroid dependence, or frequent exacerbations? Did the trial show efficacy for any of the primary or secondary end points? The FDA approved the device based on the reduction in severe asthma exacerbations. However, were the rates of asthma exacerbations, ED visits, or hospitalizations truly different between the two groups, and was this type of analysis even justified given the original study design? This commentary is designed to specifically answer these questions and help the practicing clinician navigate the thermoplasty literature with confidence and clarity. We carefully dissect the design, conduct, and results of the AIR-2 trial and raise serious questions about the efficacy of bronchial thermoplasty.