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Queen’s University Belfast to lead vital research into incurable lung condition

A ground-breaking research study into an incurable lung condition will recruit 1000 people around the UK.


A ground-breaking research study into an incurable lung condition will recruit 1000 people around the UK.  

Supported by the British Lung Foundation, Professor Lorcan McGarvey from Queen’s University Belfast and colleagues from around the UK will conduct research into the very early stages of the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which affects three million people in the UK.

For the first time, through this research they will be able to identify people at risk of developing the condition, which is a significant cause of illness and death.

The research team will establish the “BLF Early COPD Cohort”, a group of young adult smokers between the ages of 30-45, and track changes in their lung function over time. This aim is to identify and study the people whose lung function is beginning to decline and are at risk of developing COPD.

COPD is a life-long condition that makes breathing difficult because the airways have been narrowed. People living with COPD will feel out of breath doing everyday tasks, such as washing, dressing or walking to the shops.

Although anyone can develop COPD, people who smoke run a particularly high risk of developing this lung disease. This study is a first step in understanding why the disease strikes some and not others and could lead to earlier diagnosis and better treatment.

There are over 10,000 people in the Belfast HSC Trust who have a diagnosis of COPD – around a quarter of all registered COPD patients in Northern Ireland. According to BLF research, people living with COPD in Northern Ireland are more likely to end up being admitted to hospital than most other people in the UK who also have COPD, with more males admitted than females.

Progress in finding treatments has been far slower than in other chronic disease areas such as heart disease and cancer – there are no drugs that can slow progression and no treatment that can reverse damage.

COPD patients have long called for earlier diagnosis and new approaches to treatment. However, for this, an improved understanding of the early phases of COPD is needed.

Lorcan McGarvey, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at Queen’s University Belfast, said:As doctors we spend most of our time treating patients with COPD where the condition is already well established and causing lots of symptoms. Ideally, we would like to know more about COPD at the very early stages and how to identify those most at risk of developing severe disease. I believe this research will help us do just that and I am delighted that Queen’s University are playing such an important role. It’s also great that people from Northern Ireland will have an opportunity to participate in this landmark study.”

Ian Jarrold, head of research at the British Lung Foundation, said: “COPD can be incredibly life-limiting for people. Think about the last time you were out of breath, and imagine being in that state just doing everyday tasks like brushing your teeth.

“There remains an urgent need to provide people with better treatments, but this is dependent on us gaining a better understanding of how the condition develops and progresses.

“This study will be invaluable in helping us answer these questions.”

Anyone who is interested in getting involved with this significant study can do so by contacting Maura Anderson on or 028 950 43814.

Participants could benefit by having a CT scan of the chest free of charge, access to stop smoking support, a research team specialising in COPD, and follow-ups with the NHS where abnormalities are found.

They can be male or female, must be aged 30-45 years old with more than a 10 pack per year history of smoking, with either normal lung function or mild lung function abnormalities.  

Dr Lorcan Garvey
Dr Lorcan Garvey, Wellcome Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine

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