Our Battle for Breath: making lung health a priority

This is the fourth and final blog post in a series of responses to the British Lung Foundation‘s Battle for Breath report. Join us on Twitter to discuss the issues, Thursday 24 November 2016, 12:00GMT #breathreport.

Ian Jarrold, the British Lung Foundation’s Head of Research, considers the future of respiratory health in the UK:

When the British Lung Foundation was first set up by Malcolm Green in 1984, there was a lack of funding and focus on respiratory research. Some 32 years later, respiratory research is still consistently underfunded and the government is not putting a focus on respiratory research, as it has for cancers and cardiovascular disease.

Our report, The Battle for Breath, made it clear that there are more people living with lung conditions than previously thought. Currently, 1 in 5 people are diagnosed and living with a respiratory disease. As diagnosis becomes more effective, and as the population ages, we’re likely to see the numbers of people affected by lung conditions increase further. However, there is a marked disparity in research spending on respiratory disorders compared with other comparable disease areas, both in absolute terms and also, more tellingly, in relation to disease burden.

Despite this, respiratory disease research in the UK is both exciting and world-leading. We are moving forward. By forging new collaborations between government, businesses and charities, we will be able to combine our efforts to support game-changing research that will pioneer new interventions to improve outcomes for people with respiratory disease With initiatives like the National Mesothelioma Centre, pump primed with a £5million government grant, there are signs that we are now beginning to move forwards. We want this progress to continue. Our hope is that greater awareness will focus more attention on the need for research to improve daily life and life-expectancy for people living with a lung condition.

One exciting recent development is in the treatment of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Over the last few years, more and more research into pulmonary fibrosis has been happening. Several treatments are now available and there’s real momentum building. There are a number of research groups across the UK who are focusing on this area and working together to make progress, using their improved understanding of pulmonary fibrosis to develop new treatments and preventions. In recent years here at the British Lung Foundation, we’ve spent more than £600,000 on pulmonary fibrosis research. I’m looking forward to giving the go-ahead to invest another £300,000 more on vital research over the coming year. And I can’t wait to see the real-world impact that research has on people with pulmonary fibrosis. Other exciting research projects include a study on the treatment of pneumonia from University Hospital Birmingham and University of Bristol researcher investigating cognitive impairment in people with COPD. We expect results from these studies in January 2017.

The Battle for Breath report laid out the epidemiological landscape – the most complete picture of the respiratory health of the nation in 10 years. This is just the beginning; we are now looking to understand the impact of lung disease, in terms of health economics and related measures. What are the real costs to people living with these conditions, to healthcare systems and to society? And importantly, what approaches could we take to reduce this burden in the coming years. Understanding this will build on the Battle for Breath report and bring additional focus to the urgent need for more research into improving and eventually curing lung conditions. This truly is our battle for breath.

Reference: Snell N, Jarrold I & Holgate S. (2015) ‘The current state of respiratory research in the UK’, Thorax 70(11):0-3

This is the fourth in a series of responses to the British Lung Foundation‘s Battle for Breath report. Join us on Twitter to discuss the issues, Thursday 24 November 2016, 12:00GMT#breathreport.

Read the other blogs in this series

Ian Jarrold

Ian is Head of Research at the British Lung Foundation.

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