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Respiratory and virology expertise

Our world class virology researchers have been working for many years on the biology of viruses, and the processes that lead to common lung illnesses, such as viral infection, acute respiratory distress syndrome, cystic fibrosis and asthma.

Given this wealth of research expertise and understanding of how viruses spread, to how they affect our immune system as well as leading clinical trials and developing treatments and vaccines, we are now harnessing this knowledge, applying our expertise and learning to help tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our medical experts are applying their distinctive knowledge in the field to work in cross-disciplinary research teams with clinical partners, all driven by the needs of patients and with the goal of translating discovery science into new and improved diagnostics, treatments and care.

Our experts
  • Professor Stuart Elborn
    Faculty Pro Vice-Chancellor, Medicine, Health and Life Sciences.

    Professor Elborn is a well-established international leader having driven major changes in healthcare delivery in the field of cystic fibrosis and bronchiectasis.

    Prior to taking up his current post at Queen’s University Belfast, Professor Elborn was Clinical Professor of Respiratory Medicine/Consultant Physician and Director of Adult Cystic Fibrosis and Chronic Lung Infection at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College and Royal Brompton Hospital London.

    He has spent decades researching Cystic Fibrosis (CF) and his work has led to major breakthroughs in treating the condition. In all his research, Professor Elborn endeavours to bring scientists and clinicians together to promote inter-disciplinary research. He has been successful in developing programmes of research across disciplines, hospitals and universities in Northern Ireland as well as across the UK and Europe.

    Video: Devoting our expertise to the COVID-19 challenge

  • Professor Jose Bengoechea
    Director of the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine Institute.

    His research focuses on boosting host defences to fight against infections caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria. He is a world leader in the fight against Klebsiella pneumoniae, one of the deadliest hospital superbugs, with mortality rates of 25-60 per cent. Klebsiella infections are typical secondary infections that occur following influenza infection. Professor Bengochea's work is currently examining the role that co-infections play in the progression of COVID19 infections to help inform the future management of the disease in these patients. 

  • Professor Frank Kee
    Director for the Centre for Public Health at Queen’s University Belfast.

    His research focuses on life-course epidemiology and methods, complex public health interventions and decision sciences. He is currently leading a study on “health systems” responses to Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), a viral respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus that was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Professor Kee is collaborating with colleagues from Queen Mary University of London, King’s College London, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the University of Edinburgh and Swansea University on the COVIDENCE UK study, which will help identify who is most at risk of contracting COVID-19 and why some people become more ill than others with the disease.

  • Professor Ultan Power
    Professor of Molecular Virology at the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine.

    In partnership with Professor Mike Shields, of the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine he is engaged in research into one of the biggest causes of severe acute lung disease (bronchiolitis) in young infants worldwide – respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Following the award of a UKRI grant for nearly £300,000, Professor Power and his team is now directing their expertise to screen existing drugs for activity against COVID-19.

  • Professor Ken Mills
    Professor of Experimental Haematology at the Patrick G Johnson Centre for Cancer Research.

    His research has focused on improving diagnosis, prognosis and prediction of therapeutic responses for blood cancers. He is part of a cross-disciplinary research team that is testing whether current drugs can be “repurposed” to treat COVID-19

  • Professor Danny McAuley
    Professor of Intensive Care Medicine at the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine.

    Professor Danny McAuley is a Professor of Intensive Care Medicine at the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine at Queen's University, and a Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast. His other roles include Co-Director of Research for the UK Intensive Care Society and Director for MRC / NIHR Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation programme

    His work is currently focused on running important clinical trials aimed at improving the treatment and patient outcomes for critically ill COVID19 patients.  One is a collaborative project between Queen’s and the University of Warwick that is testing the efficacy of non-invasive interventions at an earlier stage in disease progression as an effective alternative to using ventilators for COVID19 patients.  

    A second clinical trial is testing a novel cell therapy approach whereby cells derived from human tissues are being used to treat lung injury in patients with ARDS caused by COVID19.  It is hoped that this approach will rectify the underlying causes of serious lung damage. 

  • Professor Cecilia O'Kane
    Researcher at the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine and a consultant in respiratory medicine at Belfast City Hospital.

    Her research focuses on understanding the pathophysiological mechanisms driving alveolar inflammation and injury in ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome), a devastating illness causing respiratory failure in the critically ill, and the classical pattern of injury in the lungs of patients with COVID infection. Another research focus is exploring new therapeutic interventions for ARDS in clinically relevant human models through to clinical trials.

    Her research group at Queen's works in both wet lab and clinical research, and has a particular focus on human models of the lung environment. The group is currently working on the therapeutic potential of Mesenchymal Stromal Cells (MSCs) to reduce injury and promote repair in lungs in the presence of infection and ARDS, in both laboratory models and clinical trials. Professor O'Kane work is currently focused on a clinical trial to test a novel cell therapy approach whereby cells derived from human tissues are being used to treat lung injury in patients with ARDS caused by COVID19. It is hoped that this approach will rectify the underlying causes of serious lung damage. 

  • Professor Cliff Taggart
    Chair in Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology at the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine

    His research focuses on evaluating mechanisms of excessive inflammation in lung disease and how this may predispose to bacterial and viral infection in the lung. Primary disease interests include Cystic Fibrosis, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome.

    Professor Taggart is the lead researcher from Queen's on a trial with the aim of developing a rapid diagnostic test for COVID-19, that aims to show results within an hour and enables clinicians to test for COVID-19 on site.

  • Dr Lindsay Broadbent
    Research Fellow and virologist, Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine.

    She is currently working on a Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF) Fellowship to investigate the immune responses to respiratory viruses, such as influenza, and how this can cause damage to the lungs.

  • Dr Connor Bamford
    Research Fellow in virology and antiviral immunity at the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine. 

    His work is currently supported by a Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF) Fellowship. He is researching immunity to viruses and bacteria in the lung and the role that specific cytokines, known as 'interferons,' play, with the hope of identifying novel ways to block infections. Of note for combating  COVID-19, Connor has significant experience in working with human pathogens.

  • Professor Liam Heaney
    Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the Welcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine, Consultant Physician at Belfast City Hospital and internationally recognised leader in assessment and management of severe asthma.

    He founded and co-ordinates the UK Severe Asthma Registry which aims to standardise UK specialist severe asthma services and facilitate research into the assessment and clinical management of severe asthma.

    Professor Heaney's award-winning research focuses on digital technologies to identify and manage poor adherence to therapy, use of biomarker based assessments to optimise corticosteroid treatment and understanding the mechanism of poor corticosteroid response in severe asthma.

  • Dr Katherine O'Neill
    Research Fellow at the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine at Queen's University.

    Dr O'Neill is a post-doctoral Wellcome Trust ISSF Early Stage Research Fellow at the Wellcome-Wolfson Northern Clinical Research Facility. Her research focuses on improving health and clinical outcomes for people with chronic respiratory disease.

    She is currently working on research projects investigating respiratory physiotherapy and digital health interventions in bronchiectasis.

  • Dr Timothy Shaw
    Clinical Research Fellow at the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine at Queen's University.

    Dr Timothy Shaw is an MRC Clinical Research Fellow and a specialty registrar in medical microbiology. He is interested in new strategies to boost the immune response against complex lung infections. Currently he is investigating the potential for a cell therapy, using mesenchymal stromal cells, in the fight against mycobacterial respiratory infections.

Related Research Centres
  • Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine

    Developing new drugs takes time and when facing a pandemic, it is crucial to find treatment as soon as possible. The facilities in the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine include our state-of-art lung models of infection, which allows us see exactly how the virus interacts with cells. It also houses a facility to safely handle coronavirus infected material.

  • The Patrick G Johnston Centre for Cancer Research

    Researchers at The Patrick G Johnston Centre for Cancer Research at Queen's have expertise in developing new therapeutic approaches and optimising existing therapies to produce better outcomes for cancer patients.  These same approaches can be applied to develop new rapid approaches to infection pandemics.  Researchers at The Patrick G Johnston Centre for Cancer Research will work in collaboration with researchers across other areas to test whether current drugs can be repurposed to tackle COVID-19.

  • Centre for Public Health

    The Centre for Public Health (CPH) is committed to identifying the epidemiological and genetic risk factors that are important for the health of the individual and of the population and to develop screening and interventions to reduce the burden of chronic diseases in the future. CPH advances the health of the public at a regional, national and international level, by increasing knowledge and influencing clinical and public health practice and policy. CPH has led a number of studies to analyse behavioural responses in light of a pandemic.