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Approved research

The environmental and genetic basis of Interstitial Lung Disease

Principal Investigator: Dr Chris Scotton
Approved Research ID: 44046
Approval date: June 20th 2019

Lay summary

There exists a range of around 200 lung diseases, called Interstitial Lung Diseases, in which the lung tissue in the interstices or spaces between the lung's air sacs can become dysfunctional or damaged and fail to repair. The reasons behind this are not well understood. As disease progresses, patients find that normal breathing becomes more and more difficult. The most common and serious of these diseases, Pulmonary Fibrosis, has a prognosis worse than many cancers. It is the cause of 1% of UK deaths, is difficult to diagnose and there is currently no cure. The aim of our project is to explore the environmental and genetic factors behind these diseases in general, and Pulmonary Fibrosis in particular, using the data in the UK Biobank. The wealth of untapped data available will help to create a better understanding of Interstitial Lung Disease. This will enable greater opportunities for finding affordable diagnosis that works for patients and allows them to receive better treatment and care. It will also inform research across the field that is aimed at finding more effective therapies and ultimately a cure. The initial phase of the project will involve looking at how these diseases link to different environmental factors and other medical conditions recorded in UK Biobank and comparing those results with better-known lung diseases (such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) to see how they differ. Genetic factors will also be explored using the DNA data in UK biobank and powerful statistical methods which are already proven at Exeter University, to investigate whether causal links exist. The duration for this part of the project is likely to be around one year. Further investigations will be carried out when additional data becomes available within UK Biobank, such as blood biomarkers. This work will be enormously powerful to add to the research into finding effective diagnostic tools. The timing of this part of the project will be subject to availability of data. Ultimately, in a research field where funding is scarce due to the low profile of interstitial lung disease, the additional insight provided by this study will be significant. The findings will take the field closer to more effective diagnosis, better treatments and eventually to a cure for patients who currently have only a short and suffocating life left to them.