Alumni

University of South Wales project will save your breath

Lungs

A University of South Wales (USW) professor has been awarded £75,000 to make a device that can check for lung problems in a patient’s own home.

Professor Mark Williams will develop the smart device, thanks to the grant from the Welsh Government, which will flag-up lung problems, and could potentially save the NHS money by reducing GP visits, highlighting illnesses that could be treated earlier, as well as helping with smoking cessation. The device could also be available through pharmacies so that patients can carry out self-checks, in a similar way to those for blood pressure and blood glucose.

Lung function is currently tested by healthcare professionals using a spirometer, a specialist piece of equipment costing upwards of £2000. In order to take the test, the user breathes into the machine three times, with the results interpreted by a trained specialist. This can, however, be difficult for children or the elderly to understand and complete.

Prof Williams has identified a gap in the market for a simple, cost effective home test kit that can easily be used by patients of all ages.

“I am delighted to receive this grant for the Freebreath project. At the end of the project, the aim is to have a testable prototype which can be replicated and used in clinical trials with respiratory disease patients in primary and secondary care settings,” Prof Williams said.

“In the UK, lung disease kills one person every five minutes. This Welsh product has huge potential not only for us but for the global market, for example, in China and India where air pollution is worse and there are more smokers. The expertise is in the device, rather than the healthcare provider.”

Prof Williams added that the device could help to flag-up potential lung problems.

“People might look to buy this device if they are ‘healthy’ but concerned about their respiratory health, for example; smokers, cyclists who worry about pollution, sports people or people with allergies,” he said.

“The smart device will be able to test lung function by the user simply breathing normally into the device and receiving a response based on the traffic light system. If the result is amber or red they will be advised to contact their GP for further testing.

“There are multiple benefits to this approach. If illnesses are caught early, patients can get access to healthcare before more invasive treatment is needed.

“People who are unlikely to visit their GP can test at home and save unnecessary appointments. Smokers who self-test and find they have a lung function problem can be encouraged to quit, saving not only their health but also NHS treatment costs in the long term.

“And, as the device will provide a much more gentle approach, children and elderly users will easily be able to complete the test, no training or supervision would be required.”

The award comes from the Welsh Government’s Life Sciences Bridging Fund, which aims to enable researchers to develop their commercial potential to generate economic, social and health benefits for the people of Wales.


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