Respiratory medicine

Respiratory research in Leicester is carried out by a team of clinical and non-clinical academics from both University and NHS backgrounds engaged in internationally competitive research.

The University of Leicester has a deserved international reputation in respiratory research with genuine strengths in both basic and clinical research in asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cough and other respiratory diseases. The Respiratory Sciences theme contributes substantially to the Institute for Lung Health (ILH) and has strong  links with clinical respiratory scientists at the University of Nottingham through RSCEM (Respiratory Science Collaboration – East Midlands).

A central question being addressed by members of the LeMID Centre is: What is the pathogenesis of environmentally-driven lung disease?

Team members are working together to address this question from a diversity of perspectives, encompassing fundamental molecular and cellular investigations, through to clinical, epidemiological approaches.

The main areas of research are chronic lung diseases; asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and bronchiecstasis (a common form of obstructive lung disease), and infectious lung diseases associated with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Streptococcus pneumoniae.

Mycology

Dr Catherine Pashley, researcher in Respiratory Sciences, leads the Leicester Aerobiology and Clinical Mycology group.

In association with a local charity, the Midlands Asthma and Allergy Research Association (MAARA), this group maintains an active pollen and fungal spore database that is the longest running database of this kind in the country and a major contributor to worldwide knowledge on these allergens.

The database contains ~50 years of daily pollen and fungal spore counts. This group is currently the only UK site actively recording fungal spore data as well as being one of the UK pollen network sites contributing to the UK pollen forecast.

The collection of data on fungal spores is vital for the investigation of airborne fungal spore diversity and its relationship with allergies.

Dr Pashley and her team update the MAARA website’s pollen and fungal spore levels forecast daily (Monday to Friday) during the peak pollen season and weekly for the remainder of the pollen and fungal spore seasons.

Fungal spore allergy (mould allergy) is a phenomenon that affects around 5-10% of the population. But is higher for people with asthma. The percentage of people with allergy increases to about 30% in people with mild asthma and up to 70% in individuals with severe asthma.

There is an association between life-threatening asthma and fungal allergy. In addition to causing allergies some fungi are able to grow inside the lung. Dr Pashley’s research involves using both traditional culture and modern sequencing techniques to identify fungi from respiratory samples to aid in the understanding of the link between fungi and respiratory diseases such as asthma, COPD and cystic fibrosis.

The work of this group has shown that both fungal allergy and fungal colonisation of the airways are associated with poorer lung function in people with asthma and COPD. The group is also involved in a clinical trial looking at the effectiveness of a novel antifungal drug.

Aspergillus fumigatus is a filamentous fungus widely found in the environment. In immunocompromised individuals, this fungal species is responsible for a range of infections, especially in the lungs. Aside from yeasts (which are easier to handle and are not as fatal), the Aspergillus fumigatus is the main lung infecting fungus. Analysis of the respiratory samples collected as part of Dr Pashley’s research showed that Aspergillus is found in 50-60% of disease cases, emphasising the importance of this fungal species to human disease.

Analytical Chemistry and respiratory health

Professor P Monks is investigating how the components of your breath can identify certain infections and conditions of the lung and liver. This approach provides a non-invasive way to assess a person's health.