Ground-breaking research from the European Respiratory Society Congress

Ian, from our research team, attending this year's virtual European Respiratory Society Annual Congress. Here he discusses his highlights from the conference and how our funding is helping young researchers share their work.

Each year, a team from Asthma UK & British Lung Foundation attends the European Respiratory Society Annual Congress, four days of cutting-edge science where tens of thousands of lung researchers from around the world hear about the latest developments in the field. But this year things were different. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year the conference was virtual, with all presentations and information presented online. This didn’t harm attendance though and at 33,000 participants, this was a record year for the conference.

Amongst them were plenty of researchers supported by the charity. We offer awards called “Travel Fellowships” that are awarded competitively to recognise research excellence in UK-based early-career investigators. All applicants were presenting original research at the conference and our six awards of £200 helped cover registration costs and recognise emerging talent. It’s a great opportunity to fly our flag, as award winners display our logos on their presentations.

And it allows us to build relationships with the stellar researchers of the future and develop lifelong advocates. It was especially satisfying to see James Chalmers, who was awarded a travel fellowship to the ERS back in 2011, now a Professor at the University of Dundee, playing a prominent role at the conference.

So, what did we learn? Some of the highlights of the talks we heard included:

  • Poor lung health earlier in life can predict poor lung health throughout your life. Work presented by Dr Anders Løkke from Denmark suggested that regular tests for young adults who have poor lung health over several decades may help to identify lung conditions at the earliest possible stage. This would mean that life-changing treatment can start earlier than currently, helping to improve quality of life and perhaps even prevent further deterioration in lung health.
  • The ‘missing millions’ of people with COPD are still out there. Dr Miguel Rodríguez from the Balearic Islands Health Research Institute Foundation presented work that suggests that 75% of COPD remains undiagnosed. We know that diagnosis of COPD means that treatment can start early, and lung health can be preserved. Regular lung tests in ‘at risk groups’ (e.g. tobacco smokers or people exposed to indoor air pollution) might help identify cases early and get people the help they need.
  • A robot doctor might be better than a human doctor. Martin Wiegand at the University of Cambridge showed that measuring how often someone coughs may be a useful tool for diagnosing certain lung conditions. As many conditions have similar symptoms, it can be along and stressful process to make a diagnosis. This approach might be a great tool to distinguish between different lung conditions like chronic cough, COPD, and asthma, and get people on the right treatments for them. Another study suggested that analysing speech patterns on a mobile phone can detect breathlessness long before the symptoms are felt, demonstrating the usefulness of emerging technology.

Conferences like the ERS not only provide a vital opportunity for researchers to share their latest results but also inspire researchers at all stages of their career - it really is a breeding ground for new ideas that will push us closer to better care for people affected by lung disease. We're already looking forward to 2021.


Comments

I was born Asthmatic at the end of 1948. Mum and her Mum has both been asthmatic but when the new NHS diagnosed me they assured my parents that they had wonderful drugs. In the early day’s parents could not visit their children so I did end up in the children's hospital and was then transferred to the Isolation hospital. I have bedsore scars and a stone hot water bottle scar to this day. When I should have started school, I was too ill and was allocated a home tutor for an hour a week. Basically, my parents taught me the three ‘r’s. Schooling was a mess, from 7 to 11 I only had a 50% attendance, but I was clever enough to be placed in the GCE stream at the Secondary Modern School. Come exam time the school had lost Chemistry, Physics and Biology teachers so those subjects were off limits. Unfortunately, I wanted those subjects. Some years ago, I discovered I could look at my online medical record and since I was curious about that early spell in hospital that was what I looked for. The first record is 1955 when my family GP is informed by the Children’s Hospital that I have Bronchiectasis. I was given that information in my mid 40’s! Yes, early problems have a knock-on effect. Knowing I had inherited Asthma I assumed that all of my ‘problems’ were hereditary so avoided marriage and children. Ignorance is also a difficulty.
This is why we still need to be partners in Europe where we can all benefit from new research. I myself have copd and bronchiecitas and aged 66 but still hoping for a miracle. NLF have many times helped me and many many others

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27 October 2020