Wearable sensors help researchers understand effects of air pollution on health


A man and woman walk down a busy road in London

Imperial’s INHALE project is assessing the impact of air pollution on personal health and measures to address its harmful effects.

The multidisciplinary INHALE research project, led by researchers from Imperial College London’s Faculties of Medicine and Engineering, is examining the degree of exposure to environmental pollution and the potential effect of pollution on participants’ lungs in locations across London.  

The researchers are modelling air pollution and airflow in cities and exploring the effect of interventions such as roadside hedges or medication for at-risk people such as asthmatics. The trial will examine pollutants’ potential for cell and tissue damage, and how this relates to health outcomes. 

The trial’s lead investigators are Professor Fan Chung from the National Heart and Lung Institute and Professor Christopher Pain from the Department of Earth Science and Engineering, in collaboration with the University of Surrey and the University of Edinburgh. 

According to the World Health Organisation, air pollution kills an estimated seven million people worldwide each year. Their data shows that almost all of the global population (99%) breath air that exceeds WHO guideline limits containing high levels of pollutants, with low- and middle-income countries experiencing the highest exposures. 

Improving air 

Participants wear personal monitors to understand their exposure to pollution, and their lung function is monitored by researchers to understand the effects this has on their body. 

Beatrice and Jonathan Goater are among those taking part in the INHALE trial. They live on a busy road in West London and their passion for tackling air pollution prompted them to volunteer.  

Speaking to the Evening Standard, Jonathan said: “We wanted to see what all the pollution is doing to us. If we are seeing a degradation in any part of our ability to breathe, that is obviously going to inform how we go about our day-to-day lives. If it’s mask-wearing or moving house, what can we do to change our environment?" 

Jonathan and Beatrice Goater with their wearable sensors
Jonathan and Beatrice Goater, who are taking part in the research, with their wearable sensors

Welcome steps forward 

From 25 October 2021, the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) was expanded in London as part of the Mayor’s plans to improve Londoners’ health by improving the city’s air. Vehicles driving in the ULEZ must meet tight emission standards or pay the daily charge. 

Speaking about ULEZ, Professor Fan Chung said: “The ULEZ expansion is a further welcome step towards improving the air we breathe, particularly in the reduction in the amount of fine and ultrafine toxic particles contained in 7,000 litres of air that we breathe into our lungs every day. We will be able to detect this in the INHALE research project we are carrying out at Imperial. This is because the participants enrolled in our study project will be wearing sensors that measure the amount of pollutant particles they are inhaling.  

“And as from 25th October, we would expect that any new participant into our study will be exposed to lesser levels of pollution in West London where we are conducting the study. More importantly, we will also be able to assess how much benefit this reduction in exposure will be beneficial to that participant in terms of his/her breathing capacity.” 

A sign for the Ultra Low Emission Zone in central London

Get involved 

The project is looking for healthy or asthmatic volunteers for participation in the study. You should live and ideally work or study in the boroughs of Ealing, Hammersmith and Fulham, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea or the City of Westminster. By participating in the study, you will find out more about your own respiratory function and support this research project. 

If you are interested in getting involved in the research or would like more information, contact Sally Meah at the Respiratory Research Unit, Royal Brompton Hospital on: 0207 351 8935 or e-mail: sally.meah@imperial.ac.uk 

Photography: Brendan Foster


Joanna Wilson

Joanna Wilson
Communications Division

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Contact details

Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 3970
Email: joanna.wilson@imperial.ac.uk

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