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Finding new ways to treat COPD and asthma

Maria, a clinical data scientist at University College London, is working on a project to identify subtypes of COPD and asthma.

Maria - BLF researcher for COPD and asthma

There’s an increasing number of studies that suggest asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) aren’t mutually exclusive conditions but form part of a group of airway conditions. This means the conditions have different causes but people with the conditions share similar symptoms. This makes diagnosis and treatment challenging.

Why subtypes of COPD and asthma are important

The project I’m working on is investigating if it’s possible to discover condition subtypes (different categories or groupings) in COPD and asthma. We’re using an approach called cluster analysis. This method groups patients together based on their characteristics such as other conditions they have, smoking status or the number of drugs they take. Patients in the same group - called a cluster - are more similar than patients in other groups.

Cluster analysis has been used before for asthma and COPD, but on a much smaller scale. We’re fortunate to have access to a large number of detailed electronic health records for patients with airways disease, allowing us to understand the subtypes of these conditions on a population scale.

The ultimate aim of the study is to help health care professionals make better decisions for the treatment of people with COPD and asthma, as patients who belong to a particular subtype may require different care. Overall, our research is designed to find ways to give people living with these conditions a better quality of life.

Thanks to the BLF, my research can make a real difference

The potential difference we can make to lives is why this project excites me. I’m putting my experience of working with patient data and machine learning methods to good use in this challenging project.

As an early career researcher, I’m very grateful to the British Lung Foundation for its financial support for this project – I wouldn’t be able to do this work without them. The BLF takes an active interest in this work and has also given me the opportunity to present my findings at scientific meetings.

Read Maria’s latest research paper on identifying COPD subtypes.

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3 February 2020