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Our children's lung disease research

Lung disease affects both young and old. That's why it's important to research lung disease that affects children as well as adults. That way we can help improve the lives of children living with a lung condition and stop kids getting lung disease in the future.

Children's lung disease in numbers

children infographic

children a year are admitted to hospital with lung disease

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lungschildren infographic

children under 14 die from lung disease each year

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£ 2,459,664

total spend on all projects


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On this page:

Children's lung disease priorities

Many lung conditions start in childhood and can last a lifetime. If we can tackle a lung problem when it first starts, we have a better chance of success compared to when a condition has progressed. Treating lung problems in children will give those children a better chance of good lung health throughout their lives. That’s why research into children’s lung disease is so important.

Our research has helped develop tests that can diagnose and monitor lung problems in pre-school children and has improved our understanding of how infections affect children’s lungs. We hope that this research will lead to better care for children’s lungs, and a lifetime without lung disease.

Research projects into children's lung disease

Here are some of the research projects we've funded into children's lung disease:

Enabling earlier detection of lung disease in young children

Measuring lung function in children under the age of 5 while they were awake was considered impossible.

Professor Janet Stocks and her team at UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, were able to overcome this by developing the use of a technique called 'multiple breath washout'. Funded by us, this technique showed that it was possible to detect lung problems in children at a much younger age than ever before. This meant that appropriate treatment for children with lung conditions could start earlier and potentially have a much greater impact. This method of testing lung function in young children has now become an international standard.

Taking the guesswork out of treating pre-school children with wheezing

Dr Sejal Saglani

1 in 3 children under 5 develop breathlessness and wheezing. At least 1 in 3 of these children go on to develop asthma, but it’s difficult to predict which children will progress and make the right treatment decisions. Dr Sejal Saglani and her team will measure the pattern of infection and inflammation in the airways of children to see what this can tell us about which children go on to develop asthma. They hope to identify patterns that will allow doctors to decide the right treatment and remove any guesswork.

They’ll be studying phlegm samples and nostril fluid of pre-school children with breathlessness and wheezing. They’ll also do a follow up of these children to better understand any ‘asthma prone’ factors. If successful, the study will enable better diagnosis and treatment of wheezing in pre-schoolers and identify if asthma can be prevented.

With the results from this study, we hope to make the case for funding for a larger study. We would follow the children for 5 years to see if this approach to treatment has an effect on whether they develop asthma. Dr Sejal Saglani

Improving lung defence to reduce infection

The larger breathing tubes (airways) in the lung including the windpipe are lined by cells whose surface has a coat of tiny hair-like projections called cilia (latin for ‘eyelash’). These tiny cilia beat rapidly in waves to clear mucus from the lung. Bacteria get stuck in the mucus and are then swept upwards by the cilia and removed from the lungs. Viruses and bacteria that infect the lungs can actively stop cilia from working properly, interfering with this important defensive process, particularly in people who have a lung condition like COPD, asthma or bronchiectasis.

Dr Alison Condliffe

Professor Alison Condliffe and her team at the University of Cambridge researched the activity of a protein called PI3-kinase. They found that blocking the activity of a specific form of PI3-kinase called PI3 kinase delta, using chemicals which have been developed as drugs to treat blood diseases, helped the cilia to function properly – restoring this vital defence against infection. 

This project has stimulated ongoing work trying to take this finding further and use it for the benefit of people with lung disease who experience recurrent infections.

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