Scientists and health professionals at Leicester’s Institute for Lung Health are celebrating its twentieth birthday this week.
A partnership between University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust and the University of Leicester, the Institute for Lung Health (ILH) is one of the largest respiratory research units in the world. Since its inception it has attracted over £100 million in funding and had more than 700 papers published in high quality science journals, including five of the twenty most highly cited papers on asthma during that time.
Members of the ILH have been highly influential in determining health policy changes in respiratory disease by their extensive involvement in professional societies, clinical guidelines and national commissioning.
Professor Andy Wardlaw, a Professor of Airways Disease at the University of Leicester and an Honorary Consultant Physician at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, was instrumental in setting up the ILH. He said: “At the heart of the Institute for Lung Health has been a partnership between the NHS and academia that has enabled us to place patients at the centre of all we do, and make sure our work is of direct relevance to how we manage and treat their conditions.”
From its early days the ILH made an impact, with the development of the shuttle walk test by Professors Mike Morgan and Sally Singh. This measure of a patient’s ability to exercise has since been adopted worldwide. Mike and Sally went on to pioneer the use of pulmonary rehabilitation, which uses exercise to treat and manage chronic lung disease. The team is now taking elements of this work globally to support patients in low and middle income countries such as Sri Lanka and Uganda, where chronic lung disease is widespread and new medicines to treat such conditions are not readily available.
Leicester is in the top three most influential places worldwide for asthma research, according to a study published in Respiratory Medicine. In 2012, a team led by Professor Ian Pavord (now at Oxford) in collaboration with the pharmaceutical company GSK, studied a new medicine called mepolizumab. They found that patients with a particular type of asthma known as eosinophilic asthma had a 50 per cent reduction in severe exacerbations when taking mepolizumab compared to a control group of patients that were given a placebo, or ‘dummy’ drug. In 2016, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) approved the treatment for all patients with eosinophilic asthma.
In the laboratory and through computer modelling, Professors Louise Wain and Martin Tobin collaborated with Nottingham researchers in 2019 to uncover genetic clues as to why some people who have never smoked still develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). By understanding the genetic causes of COPD, the hope is that new treatments can be developed.
Leicester is also a centre for research into tuberculosis (TB), a bacterial disease that can be fatal if not treated properly. Work undertaken on systematic screening programmes in Leicester has led to policy change, including the launch of the National TB Strategy for England in 2015. Successes also include identifying a gene ‘signature’ in the blood that could help doctors identify which patients are going to develop TB months before symptoms begin. This could mean that individuals being treated earlier, reducing the risk of the disease spreading.
Professor Mike Morgan, a Consultant Respiratory Physician at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust and Honorary Professor at the University of Leicester was a founding member of the ILH. He said: “We are proud of the advancements in understanding and treating lung diseases that Leicester has made over the years. The twentieth anniversary is being marked by a scientific meeting to celebrate what has been achieved and to look forward to what is sure to be a bright future for respiratory research in Leicester.”