Pathology Spotlight- Emphysema

Not all the tissue specimens in the museum collection are in jars. This is a section, about the thickness of a human hair, of a whole human lung mounted dry on paper. This type of section was invented by Professor Jethro Gough and his assistant James E Wentworth in the Welsh School of Medicine in Cardiff in 1949 and so they are called Gough-Wentworth sections. Pathologists usually take a small piece of tissue, the size of a thumbnail, from the whole organ and it is processed into paraffin wax; thin sections are cut from the wax block, which are then stained and viewed down a microscope With thick, paper mounted sections like this, the aim is to look larger scale changes which are difficult to see in the whole lung, or in paraffin sections, but can be best seen and quantified with the naked eye in the paper-mounted whole-lung section.



Emphysema arises when lung tissue is broken down and lost leaving a hole. This pathology is most clearly seen in Gough Wentworth sections and there have been many studies using this technique to study emphysema. The enlargement to the right shows the normal brown spongy lung tissue marked ‘N’ and several zones of emphysema, some marked ‘E’, where the lung tissue has largely digested away. This Section was gifted to the museum by Professor Gough himself in 1960s. Emphysema is most commonly seen in cigarette smokers, where it forms part of the syndrome known as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Cigarette smoke entering the lungs causes inflammation and production of enzymes, whilst components of the smoke inactivate the defences against the enzymes. The net result is enzymatic degradation of the lung itself, forming the characteristic ‘holey’ lesions of emphysema. There is no effective cure for emphysema as the lung tissue does not replace itself, and so the only treatment is to stop smoking – or preferably not to smoke in the first place. In emphysema sufferers the condition worsens over time, especially if they continue to smoke, but it affects people differently. So people live different lengths of time depending on the severity of their condition.












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