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Making vital breakthroughs in pneumonia research

Elizabeth, one of our researchers at the University of Birmingham, explains her vital study into pneumonia.

Elizabeth Sapey, our researcher

In 2013, I was awarded a research grant of £100,000 by the British Lung Foundation. At the time, my team and I believed that our work had the potential to improve the treatment of pneumonia in older people. And we weren’t wrong.

When pneumonia strikes, it is the immune system's job to fight the infection. White blood cells called neutrophils are key to this process because they are the ones that kill off the bacteria.

When people age, however, the neutrophils begin to stop working, making it far harder for the immune system to work properly. Finding a way to prevent this from happening is crucial to saving lives. And that’s what my research aimed to do.

A huge discovery

My team and I started with laboratory tests. Using a cholesterol-lowering drug called Simvastatin, we found that it was possible to improve the neutrophils' ability to function. This was a huge discovery, but to make sure the drug had the same effect in patients, we began a clinical trial.

We split a small number of people with pneumonia into two groups. One group was treated with a course of the drug and the other was given a placebo. The average age of both groups was 80 years old.

We found that the patients who took the drug were less likely to die or be re-admitted to hospital than those who took the placebo. We also discovered that the drug had very few side-effects when used in this way.

The breakthrough we've been waiting for

These are exceptionally exciting results. This could be the breakthrough we’ve been waiting for. 

But it’s still too early to know for sure and more research needs to be done. I'm currently applying for funding to carry out larger clinical trials to see whether Simvastatin could be used as a standard treatment for pneumonia.

It's this sort of research that gives people living with a lung condition hope for the future. It’s the only way we can find new treatments and ultimately a cure for lung disease.

But research into lung disease is often overlooked and underfunded. With your help we’re determined to change that.

You can support vital research like Elizabeth's by donating today.

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i would be interested to read about any research or papers on the above. Whilst steroids are the ideal for controlling it we are all aware of the long term problems with steroids so any information would be gratefully received.

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9 May 2017