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What we do

We investigate the burden, cause, management and prognosis of respiratory health within the general population and within the workforce (including the military), in the UK, Europe, and in low and middle income countries. Our researchers look at the genetic basis of disease, from human genomics to bacterial (i.e. microbiome), and the genomic cause of disease in the workplace. This helps explain why some workers may be more likely to develop certain conditions, whilst others go unaffected. We also examine the world’s most severe respiratory infections such as influenza, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and tuberculosis (TB) and the application of genetic, genomic and metabolomic technologies to the study of diseases of human epithelial surfaces.

Our researchers investigate diseases to try and identify their cause, with the aim of these findings being used as a basis for future disease prevention. We undertakine cutting-edge translational research into the immunological, metabolic and genetic components of these diseases in patients, and their contacts at risk of infection, to develop new tools for improved screening, diagnosis and prevention of respiratory diseases

Why it is important

Poor respiratory health and respiratory disease are a major cause of morbidity in children and adults worldwide, and a major predictor of mortality in adults. Some of the lifestyle and environmental factors that lead to poor respiratory health and respiratory disease are preventable, and effective treatment may reduce the impact of disease on patients’ lives.  Common lung diseases with an infective component such as pneumonia, asthma and COPD affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Pneumonia and COPD are amongst the leading cause of death in every country and the treatment of lung infections with antibiotics is a primary driver of antibiotic resistance in human populations. 

Exposures encountered at work are an important cause of almost every type of respiratory disease. We lead the UK in research into identifying these exposures and devising means for preventing them, both in this country and in poorer parts of the world.

Lung cancer and malignant pleural mesothelioma are devastating illnesses with few effective treatments and poor outcomes. Our section leads collaborative research with The Royal Brompton Hospital and The Royal Marsden Hospital that is improving the diagnosis and identifying new targets for treating lung and pleural cancers.

One in three people on the planet are infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB), with eight to ten million new cases each year of which 2-3 million are fatal. Within the UK, TB incidence in the UK has increased over the last 15 years and there is an urgent need for improved diagnosis and screening for TB infection both in the NHS and throughout the world. 

Influenza results in about three to five million cases of severe illness and about 250,000 to 500,000 deaths worldwide every year. Larger outbreaks known as pandemics are less frequent. Flu vaccine is the best protection we have against this unpredictable virus which is of particular risk to, older people, pregnant women and those with a health condition. Flu vaccines need to change every year to overcome rapid viral mutation. Further research is needed to identify how our immune system responds to infection with influenza and to understand how viral infections are controlled, so that we can design new therapies and possibly create better vaccines against flu.

Research Impact

We carry out investigations which enhance interactions between basic laboratory research and patients with severe lung diseases treated at the Royal Brompton Hospital. Highlights include the landmark genome-wide association studies (GWAS) for asthma, the first analysis of the psoriasis transcriptome, development of target genomic capture (leading to exome sequencing), identification of the first metastatic cancer gene, the application of genomics to regenerative epithelia, and leading studies of the airway microbiome. 

Our research on asthma and COPD were central for the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) estimates 2010, and we continue to lead and contribute to major national and international efforts to improve knowledge and management of respiratory disease through state-of-the-art epidemiological research. This includes expertise in the use of electronic health record data, including Dr Jennifer Quint's role as the Deputy Director of the HDR UK Data Research Hub BREATHE that is investigating respiratory conditions. 

We contribute to prevention strategies for protecting the health of the workforce and are home to the largest national referral service for occupationally related respiratory disease. Our Lungs at Work clinic helps patients with lung conditions caused by workplace exposures, and breathing difficulties related to the wider environment outside work.

We are currently undertaking research on:

  • common causes of occupational asthma in the UK
  • the role of occupational and other environmental exposures in the development of fibrotic lung diseases
  • the effects of ‘tunnel dust’ on the health of workers on the London tube
  • firefighters from the Grenfell fire
  • farmers in Thailand and textile workers in Pakistan
  • British servicemen who were seriously injured in the Afghan war.

The most significant practical output to date from our tuberculosis research programme has been the development and clinical validation of the first T cell-based diagnostic test in medicine. The ELISpot assay for diagnosis of TB infection is recognised as the new gold standard for diagnosing latent TB infection and has mostly replaced the 100 year old tuberculin skin test. The regulatory-approved version of the assay is approved by NICE and several European guidelines and is entering clinical practice in the UK and Europe. Our ongoing translational research into fundamental immunology has great potential to generate further advances in screening, diagnosis and monitoring of TB, sarcoidosis and Influenza. We focus on systematic translation of cutting-edge scientific biomedical advances.

Find out more about our current research.

Connections

Study and teaching

Members of the section play active roles in teaching on the BSc in Respiratory Science and a number of Master's offered by Imperial College London including the:

The section is particularly involved in the MSc in Genomic Medicine (a new innovative program) having previously run the short course in Genomic Medicine. The Course Director of the MSc in Genomic Medicine is section Principal Investigator Professor Michael Lovett.   

Related centres and projects

ADVANCE Study

The ADVANCE Study is an innovative study and the first of its kind in a UK military casualty population. The ADVANCE study has been set up to evaluate the clinical, biological and psychosocial outcomes of a cohort of 600 UK battlefield casualties. This 20-year cohort study will offer a uniquely comprehensive description of the long-term physical and psychosocial outcomes of blast and other battlefield trauma.

Asmarley Centre for Genomic Medicine

Incorporated within the Genomic Medicine Section is the Asmarley Centre for Genomic Medicine. Core funding from the Asmarley Trust allows the Centre to bring state of the art genomic technology and expertise to the study of a number of lung diseases.  Professor Bill Cookson is the holder of the Asmarley Chair in Genomic Medicine.

Centre for Blast Injury Studies

The Centre for Blast Injury Studies addresses the disabling injuries of conflict with a clinically-led approach. The Centre is comprised of the unique multidisciplinary collaborations of military medical officers and civilian engineers and scientists from around the world, all of whom are dedicated to investigating the difficult research issues surrounding blast injury.

CF Trust Strategic Research Centre CF EpiNet

Harnessing data to improve lives the CF Trust Strategic Research Centre CF EpiNet aims to extend the use of Registry data by linking it with other health records. CF-EpiNet is comprised of a team of academics and clinicians working across different hospitals and universities.

HDR UK Data Research Hub - BREATHE

Dr Jennifer Quint is the Deputy Director of the HDR UK Data Research Hub BREATHE that is investigating respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in the UK.. 

National Centre for Mesothelioma Research

Professor Cookson and Professor Moffatt are Principal Investigators within the National Centre for Mesothelioma Research (NCMR).  Collaborative science is a key feature of this Centre, with a shared goal of discovery research into mechanisms underlying growth of malignant cells in mesothelioma. The Centre aims to identify novel targets for therapy and accompanying diagnostics for accurate patient stratification.

Microbiome Network

The Microbiome@Imperial Network federates over fifty researchers and has two directors from NHLI, Professor Dumas and Professor Moffatt. It aims to be inclusive and to facilitate links between researchers across our campuses by organising cross-faculty seminars, establishing technology workshops and consolidating public engagement activities around the study of the microbiome.

NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Respiratory Infections

The mission of the NIHR HPRU in Respiratory Infections at Imperial College London is to support Public Health England (PHE) by creating a centre of excellence to design, conduct and share internationally-leading multidisciplinary health protection research. The NIHR Health Protection Unit in Respiratory Infections supports research projects across influenza, tuberculosis and other respiratory infections.

MRC Centre for Environment and Health

The MRC Centre for Environment and Health brings together a number of leading research groups from some of London’s top universities, related to the diverse fields of environment and health. We aim to promote and encourage interdisciplinary research, and develop the research leaders of the future.

For patients

For further information on mesothelioma visit Mesothelioma UK.

Anyone who is seeking help and advice regarding occupational respiratory diseases should go to the Lungs at Work clinical website.

 

Our researchers