Female scientist with pipette


Professor Maria Belvisi
Lead academic
+44 (0)20 7594 7828

Study with NHLI

What we do

Our research focuses on the development of new treatment strategies for a number of respiratory conditions that effect many people, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cough.  We investigate the cellular and molecular mechanisms behind these conditions. Our research also looks at how the inhalation of airborne particles, such as air pollution, asbestos, cigarette smoke and microbial material, cause pulmonary inflammation and lung disease

Why it is important

We are all exposed to airborne particles such as air pollution, cigarette smoke and engineered nano-particles, and it is important to know what effect they have on our health. There is also a pressing need for more effective treatments for asthma, COPD and the common cough.


  • UK and Ireland have some of the highest asthma rates in the world, but the current treatments for these conditions are inadequate.
  • Asthma is normally controlled with glucocorticoids however approximately 10% of patients have severe asthma that can be resistant to this treatment.


  • Every hour COPD is estimated to kill 250 people and in the UK 30,000 people die each year from this disease.
  • As COPD is a steroid resistant disease, there are at present, no successful disease modifying treatments available.


  • A protective reflex in healthy individuals, cough is also the most common respiratory complaint for which medical attention is sought.
  • It often presents as the first and most persistent symptom of many inflammatory airways diseases.
  • Recent analysis established that there was no good evidence for the effectiveness of over-the-counter medicines, the most commonly used treatment. 

patient benefits and current projects

Nurse with patient

What is the impact of our research

  • Exploring the use of inhaled nanomedicines and drug delivery to the lung could lead to new advances in treatment.
  • Establishment of novel in vitro human lung cell models to investigate inhaled agents to understand which features confer bioreactivity.
  • The development of new treatments will benefit patients suffering from asthma, COPD or a cough.
  • A current project is looking at the use of human tissue in place of animal models.


Male scientist pharmacology

Current projects

  • Investigations into the mechanisms involved in environment and pathogen induced sensing by airway neurons and their relevance to disease exacerbations in asthma and COPD. 
  • Translational project focussing on the nature of cough in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF); mechanistic studies and possible associations with disease severity and bacterial infection.
  • Role of Transient Receptor Potential Channels in the inflammatory and airway remodelling components of chronic respiratory disease (asthma, IPF, COPD). 
  • Mechanistic studies investigating how B2-adrenoceptor agonists cause relaxation of airway smooth muscle involving the use of novel imaging techniques.




Key publications

Public engagement

We take a keen interest in public engagement by giving talks to members of the community of all ages, most recently at the NHLI Heart and Lung Pop-Up Repair Shop and the Your Future Your Ambition STEM event.

Additionally, students from secondary schools with an interest in physiology are often welcomed into the laboratory to learn more about how science is conducted on a day to day basis. For full details of opportunities for school and college pupils see the College pages on student recruitment and outreach.

Our researchers

The researchers from this section are now part of the Airway Disease Section, new webpages are currently under construction to reflect how their research fits within this section's aims. These will go live towards the end of 2019.