A new medical procedure is using metal coils to breathe new life into emphysema sufferers.

Doctors in Canada, the United States and Europe are experimenting with a new treatment that involves inserting Slinky-like metal coils into damaged portions of the lungs to restore their lost elasticity, allowing patients to breathe normally.

“What the coil does, actually, is it acts like a spring,” said Dr. Antoine Delage, of the Institut Universitaire De Cardiologie Et De Pneumologie in Quebec. “It recoils the lung back to a smaller size, so it’s easier for these patients to breathe.”

Emphysema develops when the lungs become damaged, usually from a lifetime of smoking. As the damage builds up, the lungs lose their elasticity and have greater difficulty expanding and contracting.

The chronic disease worsens over time, making it even more difficult for sufferers to breathe.

Emphysema is sometimes treated by simply cutting out the stiff, diseased lung tissue. Taking medication or specialized exercise programs can also help slow the disease.

But this coil treatment is something new that doctors can soon offer patients, Delage says.

“It is … exciting to see there are new developments in  a disease where there have been very few in the past few years,” he told CTV News.

To insert the coils, doctors place a narrow tube inside a patient’s nose or mouth before threading the tiny coil into the airway of the lung. The coil then attaches to the diseased tissue and pulls it tight, compressing the unhealthy portion of the lung.

This gives healthier lung tissue room to expand; several coils can be inserted to improve overall lung capacity.

Art Grenier, one of the patients who has undergone the treatment, says he has felt a dramatic improvement in his breathing.

Grenier started smoking at the age of 9 and has been suffering from emphysema for years.

“I would have to stop every three or four words and catch my breath,” he says. “It was very difficult to do anything strenuous.”

That all changed after the procedure.

“My stomach was more relaxed, I didn’t have any pain in my abdomen, my diaphragm wasn’t compressed,” he says. “I can inhale deeply. I didn’t have problems anymore. It was amazing.”

Early studies suggest that patients who’ve undergone the treatment report improved lung function and exercisability. However, more research is needed to determine which patients are best-suited for the treatment.

Doctors say they are looking to test the treatment on 300 patients, screening for possible side effects like infection and pneumonia. Final results are expected early next year.

While other treatments exist for emphysema  -- also known as COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease -- the condition has no cure.

With a report from CTV’s medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip