Funding for joint project to help lung patients

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X-ray Image of a human with skeleton and lung.

Scientists at Heriot-Watt are part of a team working to develop a probe to help intensive care patients on breathing support. The new tool will enable doctors to see inside their lungs to check for and monitor infections, inflammation and scarring.

Monitoring disease via the lungs

Potentially fatal lung complications are common among patients on ventilation in intensive care units (ICU).

Over the next five years the team, led by the University of Edinburgh, will use advanced fibre optic technology, new chemistries, microelectronics and computer intelligence to create a microscopic probe that can be passed into patients’ lungs and blood vessels where it will be able to detect and monitor up to 20 key indicators of disease.

Helping premature babies

Researchers will also look at using the probe to help critically ill premature babies in the hope that it could replace the need for regular blood tests to measure oxygen, acid and glucose levels.

Along with measuring levels of oxygen, acidity, glucose and other indications in the patient’s blood and lungs, the device will deliver tiny amounts of tracer compounds that will highlight specific bacteria and viruses and other harmful substances that could damage the lung.

The signals from these compounds will be transmitted to a computer to be converted into real-time, easily understood diagnostics for doctors.

Revolutionising respiratory medicine

Experts say that having such information quickly at the bedside will revolutionise respiratory medicine through dramatically improving the ability to accurately diagnose, monitor and treat lung disease.

It is hoped that the probe will be used in the future in acute urinary, gastrointestinal and reproductive tract problems.

Professor Alan Greenaway, Deputy Director of the Institute of Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering, at the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, said, "We are delighted to be working with our colleagues from Edinburgh and Bath on this project, which will save lives and improve the life-quality of those who have been through the critical care system.

"The project builds on Heriot-Watt’s major developments in interdisciplinary research in recent years, and we are pleased that this effort has been recognised by EPSRC through their significant investment in this new programme."

Project awarded £11.2 million

The project, which involves physicists, chemists, engineers, computer experts and clinicians from Heriot-Watt and the Universities of Edinburgh and Bath, has been awarded £11.2 million by the EPSRC along with additional support from the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.