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Innovative research to fight respiratory disease

The battle against respiratory diseases is being fought worldwide and researchers at Queen’s are playing a leading role in the campaign. Millions of people are living with conditions which erode their health and wellbeing and affect the lives of their families.

In partnership with the Public Health Agency and Health and Social Care Trusts, Queen's is working to ensure that people in Northern Ireland are protected as much as possible at the moment, have the right facilities for diagnosis where appropriate and get the right treatment.

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.

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.

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 experts
  • Stuart Elborn
    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.

  • Jose Bengoechea
    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.

  • Frank Kee
    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.

  • Ultan Power
    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 will now direct their expertise to screen existing drugs for activity against COVID-19.

  • Ken Mills
    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. 

  • Danny McAuley
    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

    A key aim of his research work is to translate early research findings to improve patient outcomes. His major interest is the Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).

  • Cliff Taggart
    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.

    His work focuses on how the innate immune response becomes dysregulated during excessive inflammation as a result of elevated protease activity.

  • Lindsay Broadbent
    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.

  • Connor Bamford
    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.

  • Liam Heaney
    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.

  • Timothy Shaw
    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.

  • Celia O'Kane
    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.

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.