Meet the researcher: Adrian

Dr Adrian Martineau: Clinical Professor of Respiratory Infection and Immunity at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry

My primary area of interest is in the effects of vitamin D on human health, particularly on respiratory infections: to prevent and treat tuberculosis (TB), acute respiratory infections and flare-ups of asthma and COPD.

Other interests include the role of neutrophils (white blood cells that play an essential role in the immune system) in TB, and the effects of taking vitamin D supplement on a range of non-infectious diseases.

BLF travel fellowship

In 2002, I received a BLF travel fellowship to attend the European Respiratory Society’s annual meeting in Stockholm. The reason I went was to present some research on long-term trends in death rates and TB.

This was my introduction to the international respiratory conference scene. It was very helpful because I got to do an oral presentation. The chairman of the session and members of the audience asked some very testing questions. That certainly helped me to shape my ideas about the data. It also helped when it came to publishing a paper on the research, because we included discussion points from the session in the paper.

Apart from the presentation itself, it was a great opportunity to network with other researchers in the field and get a feel for what life as a researcher could be like. It was also a way to find out about the burning questions of the day in respiratory research.

Clinical trial: vitamin D and TB

In 2005, I received £171,172 BLF funding for a clinical trial, with 146 participants with TB, to see whether vitamin D reduces infectiousness in the disease.

Half of the participants received antibiotics plus a placebo. The other half received the same antibiotics plus a high dose of vitamin D. The idea behind the study was that vitamin D would improve the immune system’s ability to clear TB bacteria from the lungs.

We found that, although we saw a trend in that direction, it was not statistically significant. However, there were some positive findings.

First, we did genetic tests to look at the way different people processed vitamin D. We found that those with a particular genetic variation were very highly responsive to vitamin D, while those without that variation were less responsive.

So that gave us some insight into how the body processes vitamin D. That, in theory, could point us in the direction of identifying those patients most likely to benefit from a vitamin D supplement.

Second, as stated, improvement in the lungs’ ability to clear TB bacteria wasn’t statistically significant. However, those receiving the vitamin D supplement did recover from inflammation more quickly – on average, two weeks faster.

Importantly, this was the first time that anyone had shown the effects of vitamin D on the immune system in relation to TB. That has led on to other studies that we’re planning to see whether vitamin D has the same effect on inflammation in other lung diseases.