Toby Maher, MD, a professor at Imperial College London and based at the National Heart and Lung Institute, is one of three researchers who were awarded the prestigious Chair in Respiratory Research grant from the British Lung Foundation (BLF). The grant’s goal is to extend research into three lung diseases: Bronchiectasis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).
Bronchiectasis is a disease-causing permanent enlargement of parts of the airways in the lung. Typical symptoms are a chronic cough with mucus production, as well as shortness of breath, coughing up blood, and chest pain. Lung infections are common in patients with bronchiectasis.
COPD causes poor airflow in the lungs. The main symptoms include shortness of breath and cough with sputum production. COPD is a progressive disease and typically worsens over time.
IPF is a condition characterized by scar formation (fibrosis) in lung tissue, causing serious breathing problems.
Professor Maher, who also is a consultant respiratory physician at the Royal Brompton Hospital, will investigate IPF biomarkers and explore the repurposing of existing therapies to treat the disease.
“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,” Maher said in a press release.
“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 percent 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.” Maher said.
In total, the funding worth £1.3 million ($1.6 million U.S. dollars) will be shared with two other respiratory experts — Professor James Chalmers, at the University of Dundee, and Professor Louise Wain, at the University of Leicester, who have done world-class research on lung diseases. Both researchers were awarded the Chair in Respiratory Research grant.
Professor Chalmers studies the identification of different types of patients to devise tests that can improve the monitoring of infections or inflammation in lung disease. Such tests also could help identify the best treatment strategy for the individual patient.
Professor Wain is studying genes that may play a role in the development of IPF and COPD.
“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,” said Ian Jarrold, head of research at the British Lung Foundation.
“Our professorships nurture and develop outstanding lung researchers who can bring ground-breaking research and international leadership to lung disease,” Jarrold said. “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.”