Queen's University Belfast lung injury study could save lives in critically ill

October 13, 2010

Researchers at Queen's University Belfast are investigating a potential new treatment for lung disease that could save many lives each year.

The research team is studying how statins, drugs which are commonly used to treat high cholesterol, can be used to treat lung disease.

There is currently no effective treatment for acute lung injury. The team hopes the work could boost survival rates for those who become critically ill and suffer lung failure after incidents such as road traffic accidents or severe infections.

Leading the research is Professor Danny McAuley from Queen's Centre for Infection and Immunity. He said: "When people are critically ill their lungs can fail. This is termed 'acute lung injury' and means that the lungs fill with water instead of air. Breathing becomes difficult and a ventilator is needed to take over.

"Statins have the potential to improve lung injury by reducing inflammation in the lung, reversing the damage and therefore decreasing the amount of water in the lungs. This helps fight infection."

The team includes Queen's researchers, Dr Celia O'Kane and Professor Cliff Taggart, along with Professor John Laffey from National University Ireland, Galway.

The research has the potential to free up healthcare resources and allow more people to return to the workplace sooner following spells in hospital.

Professor McAuley added: "There may be up to 45,000 cases of acute lung injury each year in the UK and Ireland and up to 22,000 deaths. Only around half of those who survive are able to return to work 12 months after discharge from hospital. After recovery from lung injury, patients can go on to experience a poorer quality of life and many are unable to look after themselves.

"But this treatment has the potential to reduce the impact of acute lung injury and the time patients need to stay in intensive care units. It could also significantly reduce the strain on hospital beds."

The study is being managed by staff from the Clinical Research Support Centre in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and has been supported by the infrastructure provided by the Northern Ireland Clinical Research Network. The Clinical Research Facility at NUI Galway is providing additional support. The study is taking place over four years in approximately 25 other intensive care units throughout the UK and Ireland.
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The research is being funded by the Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation programme (www.eme.ac.uk) which is funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and managed by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The Health Research Board and the Intensive Care Society of Ireland have also provided additional funding.

Professor McAuley's previous research which lead to this study has been funded by the Health and Social Care Research and Development Division, Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland and REVIVE.

Media Queries

Media queries contact Donna McCullough Tel: 00 44 (0)28 9097 5391 Email: d.mccullough@qub.ac.uk

Notes to Editors

Statins are a promising potential new therapeutic option in acute lung injury (ALI) as they modulate a number of the underlying processes described in ALI. Simvastatin decreases inflammation and permeability of blood vessels in the lung. This reduces organ dysfunction in the critically ill.

Prof Danny McAuley is Professor and Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine at the Royal Victoria Hospital and Queen's University Belfast. Prof McAuley trained at Queen's University, Belfast and undertook clinical training in Respiratory and Intensive Care Medicine in Belfast, Birmingham and London. He undertook a post-doctoral research position with Prof Michael Matthay at the University of California at San Francisco. He is Co-Director of Research for the Intensive Care Society and Chair of the Irish Critical Care Trials Group. His major research area is acute lung injury.

A previous small study from Prof Danny McAuley's research group, undertaken at the Regional Intensive Care Unit in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust recently found that statins might have a role in treating this condition. The study was funded by the Health and Social Care Research and Development Division, Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland and REVIVE.

The Northern Ireland Clinical Research Network, NICRN, was established in 2008 by the Health and Social Care Research and Development Division, Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland as an infrastructural support mechanism for research active staff within the HSC. The network comprises of nine specific interest groups including Critical care, Cardiovascular, Childrens, Dementia, Diabetes, Primary care, Stroke and Vision, employing R&D staff across all five NI trusts including nurses, physiologists, physiotherapists, optometrists and coordinators. This staffing resource allows clinicians and clinical academics from across NI to focus on the delivery of high quality research activity and therefore allows the public across the region to have access to cutting edge research studies.

The Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation programme supports later-phase "science-driven" clinical trials and evaluative studies, which seek to determine whether a health intervention (e.g. a drug, diagnostic technique or device) works and in some cases how or why it works.

The NIHR provides the framework through which the research staff and research infrastructure of the NHS in England is positioned, maintained and managed as a national research facility. The NIHR provides the NHS with the support and infrastructure it needs to conduct first-class research funded by the Government and its partners alongside high-quality patient care, education and training. Its aim is to support outstanding individuals (both leaders and collaborators), working in world class facilities (both NHS and university), conducting leading edge research focused on the needs of patients. www.nihr.ac.uk

The Medical Research Council is dedicated to improving human health through excellent science. It invests on behalf of the UK taxpayer. Its work ranges from molecular level science to public health research, carried out in universities, hospitals and a network of its own units and institutes. The MRC liaises with the Health Departments, the National Health Service and industry to take account of the public's needs. The results have led to some of the most significant discoveries in medical science and benefited the health and wealth of millions of people in the UK and around the world. www.mrc.ac.uk

Queen's University Belfast

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