It’s been an exciting month for Professor Toby Maher of the National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI) this August as he gets awarded a highly prestigious grant from the British Lung Foundation (BLF) called the Chair in Respiratory Research grant. The funding will allow Maher to further research incurable respiratory diseases which affect millions of people across the world on a daily basis.

The grant is just one part of a bigger initiative in which to combine pioneering research with international leadership together into three separate areas. These are bronchiectasis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).   The branch that Professor Maher will be dealing with is IPF.  Maher’s research will look to gain a deeper understanding of the progressive condition where the lung tissues become scarred.  He’ll do this by identifying biomarkers for the disease.

When patients suffer from IPF their alveoli in the lungs become damage and as the tissue stiffens it makes breathing more difficult as it reduces the amount of oxygen that’s allowed into the blood. So far there is no cure for the condition and a very limited amount of approved treatments. Professor Maher said, “Given the poor prognosis of IPF patients, they don’t have time to wait years for new treatments. I will be identifying blood-based biomarkers which could have the time taken to validate new medicines, and running clinical trials with a focus on repurposing existing drugs to further cut the time taken to make novel treatments available to individuals with IPF.”

Maher is aiming to significantly reduce the chance of infection for IPF patients too through a “home monitoring project empowering patients to spot early deterioration in their disease.” Professor Clare Lloyd is Head of the Division of Respiratory Sciences at NHLI and this is what she had to say about the award: “For the department, Toby being awarded the Chair is a fantastic opportunity to expand and develop the translational medicine aspects of his work. It will help out the mission to build critical mass in basic research into molecular mechanisms underlying fibrotic lung diseases and generate an integrated program of clinical translational research.”

Two others were also granted funding as part of the BLF/GlaxoSmithKline Chair in Respiratory Research grant for their efforts in the fight against lung disease. The first is Professor James Chalmers of the University of Dundee, and the second is Professor Louise Wain of the University of Leicester. Ian Jarrold, Head of Research at the British Lung Foundation commented, “The forthcoming work has the potential to improve our understanding of these disease, and provide personalized medicine – something which has already led to huge improvements in the treatment of many cancers. Their work will provide families dealing with a lung disease diagnosis more hope for the future. We look forward to seeing them progress in their careers.”

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