Imperial College London

Respiratory expert receives prestigious grant to explore incurable lung disease


Lung disease

A leading expert in respiratory medicine at Imperial College has been awarded funding to help patients suffering from a devastating lung disease.

Professor Toby Maher, based at the National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI), was this week awarded the prestigious Chair in Respiratory Research grant from the British Lung Foundation (BLF), as part of continued efforts to extend research into incurable respiratory diseases affecting almost 1.5 million people in the UK alone.

The grant forms part of a larger drive to bring pioneering research and international leadership to three disease areas – bronchiectasis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

Professor Maher’s research will look to transform our understanding of IPF, a progressive condition in which the tissue of the lung becomes scarred, by identifying biomarkers for the disease as well as exploring the repurposing of existing drugs.

Incurable disease

In patients with IPF, the tiny air sacks lining the lungs (alveoli) become damaged. As the tissue stiffens, it makes breathing increasingly difficult and reduces the amount of oxygen which can get into the blood.

There is no known cure for the condition and only two treatments approved in the UK, neither of which are able to prevent progression of the disease.

Professor Toby Maher

Professor Toby Maher

Professor Maher, who isalso a Consultant Respiratory Physician at the Royal Brompton Hospital, said: “Given the poor prognosis of IPF patients, they don’t have time to wait years for new treatments. I will be identifying blood-based biomarkers which could halve the time taken to validate new medicines, and running clinical trials with a focus on repurposing existing drugs to further cut the time taken to make novel treatments available to individuals with IPF.”

He added: “As many as one in 10 individuals with IPF also develop episodes of acute exacerbation or infection each year, with these episodes leading to 50 per cent of people dying within a month. I aim to reduce this through a home monitoring project empowering patients to spot early deterioration in their disease.”

Commenting on the award, Professor Clare Lloyd, Head of the Division of Respiratory Sciences at the NHLI, said: "For the department, Toby being awarded the Chair is a fantastic opportunity to expand and develop the translational medicine aspects of his work.

"It will help our mission to build critical mass in basic research into molecular mechanisms underlying fibrotic lung diseases and generate an integrated programme of clinical translational research."

Delving into lung disease

Two further respiratory experts will share in funding, worth £1.3m in total, carrying out five-year research projects funded by the BLF, GlaxoSmithKline and their respective institutions.

Professor James Chalmers, at the University of Dundee, and Professor Louise Wain, University of Leicester, were awarded the GSK/BLF Chair in Respiratory Research grant in recognition of their world-class research in the fight against lung disease.

Professor Wain’s study will use innovative genetic approaches and an unprecedented wealth of data collated through international collaboration, to identify the genetic determinants of susceptibility to IPF and COPD.

Given the poor prognosis of IPF patients, they don’t have time to wait years for new treatments

– Professor Toby Maher

National Heart and Lung Institute

Professor Chalmers research will identify different types of patients at the cellular level using state of the art gene sequencing and inflammation measurement technology. This information will be used to identify tests that can recognise types of infection or inflammation that may respond to personalised treatment

Ian Jarrold, Head of Research at the British Lung Foundation, said: “Our Professorships nurture and develop outstanding lung researchers who can bring ground-breaking research and international leadership to lung disease. 

“We witness first-hand the devastating consequences that the long-term neglect of lung disease can have on patients and their families.”

He added: “[The] forthcoming work has the potential to improve our understanding of these diseases, and provide personalised medicine – something which has already led to huge improvements in the treatment of many cancers.

"Their work will provide families dealing with a lung disease diagnosis more hope for the future. We look forward to seeing them progress in their careers.”

This article was adapted from materials provided by the British Lung Foundation.

See the press release of this article



Ryan O'Hare

Ryan O'Hare
Communications Division

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