Imperial College London

Researchers search for answers to incurable lung condition


Smoke filled lungs

A nationwide project investigating the early stages of the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has been launched.

The research team from the National Heart and Lung Institute will be led by Professor Wisia Wedzicha and supported by the British Lung Foundation. The ground-breaking study needs 1,000 people for its research into this incurable lung condition that effects three million people in the UK (NHS England). Through this study the researchers aim to be able to identify people at risk of developing COPD for the first time.

“COPD can be incredibly life-limiting for people. Think about the last time you were out of breath, and imagine being in that state just doing everyday tasks like brushing your teeth" Ian Jarrold Head of Research, BLF

COPD is a life-long condition that makes breathing difficult because the airways have been narrowed. People living with COPD will feel out of breath doing everyday tasks such as housework or walking the dog. Though 20% of people with COPD have never smoked and not all smokers develop COPD - it is mainly caused by smoking from early adulthood.  According to WHO it is estimated that globally 3.17 million deaths were caused by the disease in 2015 (that is, 5% of all deaths globally in that year).

Wisia Wedzicha, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London, said: “This is the first ever COPD study to investigate younger adult smokers, and will help us understand the origins of the disease. By studying people aged 30-45 from across the nation, and tracking their lung health over time, we will also be able to glean insights into why some individuals are more prone to the condition. This knowledge may even reveal new drug targets, enabling us to develop new treatments that slow COPD, or even stop it in its tracks”.

The researchers will establish the ‘BLF Early COPD Cohort’, a group of young adult smokers between the ages of 30-45, to track changes in their lung function over time. They will identify and study the people whose lung function is beginning to decline and are at risk of developing COPD. This will provide insight into how the disease progresses and give clues to how we can prevent its advance, to hopefully benefit the millions of people worldwide who live with COPD.

Progress in finding treatments for COPD has been far slower than in other chronic disease areas such as heart disease and cancer – to date there are no drugs that can slow the progression of the disease and no treatment that can reverse the damage it causes. COPD patients have long called for earlier diagnosis and new approaches to treatment. However, for this, an improved understanding of the early phases of COPD is needed. Ian Jarrold, head of research at the British Lung Foundation, said “There remains an urgent need to provide people with better treatments, but this is dependent on us gaining a better understanding of how the condition develops and progresses”.

People locally looking to get involved with this significant study can do so by contacting Participants could benefit by having a CT scan of the chest free of charge, access to stop smoking support, a research team specialising in COPD, and follow-ups with the NHS is abnormalities are found.  

Volunteers can be male or female, must be aged 30-45 years old and current smokers, but have no current lung disease diagnosis.



Ms Helen Johnson

Ms Helen Johnson
National Heart & Lung Institute

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Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 6843

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Smoking, Public-health
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