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Progress towards improving knowledge and understanding of Scotland’s third-biggest killer disease – which is 62 percent more prevalent in East Ayrshire - has been highlighted at a conference hosted by University of the West of Scotland.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a deadly lung disorder that a consortium of organisations – including UWS, Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) and Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKit) – have been granted €7.7 million EU INTERREG VA funding to help tackle.

The ‘BREATH’ (Border and Regions Airways Training Hub) project aims to better understand and alleviate the impact of COPD. Certain areas in Scotland and Ireland are considered to be COPD ‘hotspots’, with some of the highest rates in the world.

The virtual conference, which was attended by 200 people across three days, saw 19 BREATH PhD students across the partner organisation present their advancing research and findings in tackling the lung disease, which claims more than 600,000 lives in the EU every year.  

The research projects in discussion were wide ranging and included a study on premature lung aging and an examination of smooth muscle cell biology and its relevance to COPD. A certificate for scientific excellence was presented to UWS PhD student, Carly Woods, for her study into epithelial cells.

Launched in 2017, the BREATH project has established a world-class cluster of researchers to study COPD and has been recognised as Project of the Year at the 2018 Northern Ireland Healthcare Awards. It has also introduced several successful outreach programmes and stakeholder events to raise awareness of the disease to a wide range of people, from school children to MSPs, contributing to ongoing political debate about COPD.

“COPD is now the third-biggest killer in worldwide, with lung diseases in Scotland, recently overtaking cardiovascular disease for the first time. Smoking, pollution, genetics, infection and prematurity are among the contributing causes of COPD."
Professor John Lockhart, UWS BREATH Lead Principal Investigator

Professor John Lockhart, UWS BREATH Lead Principal Investigator, said: “What is of particular concern is that areas of southwest Scotland, such as East Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway, are disproportionately affected by this life-limiting disease and so a key focus of this conference and the wider BREATH project is not only to look into and share progress towards new therapies and treatments for the disease, but also to significantly raise awareness of the causes and preventative steps we can take to reduce COPD rates in these areas.”

This year’s conference saw BREATH working in partnership with leading global pharmaceutical company, Teva UK, to deliver a PhD training day. This session included presentations from senior employees of Teva, including the UK and Ireland General Manager, Kim Innes, giving BREATH PhD students a unique insight into the pharmaceutical industry.

Dr Anne Crilly, one of the UWS BREATH Principal Investigators and organiser of this year’s event said: “UWS was delighted to host this year’s three-day annual conference, which gave the partnership an opportunity to engage academic, clinical and industrial stakeholders and to highlight the advances being made across the project. As a life-limiting and incurable lung disease, it is hoped that our research will give a better understanding of the biological processes involved in COPD which in turn may help to inform future drug discovery, improving the clinical management of this devastating condition.

“On behalf of the UWS BREATH organising team, I’d like to extend a huge thank you to everyone involved in the success of this year’s conference, and in particular acknowledge the Teva team who helped to make this such a unique and memorable event.”

Kim Innes, General Manager of Teva UK & Ireland, said: “We were really pleased to partner with the University of the West of Scotland for their BREATH virtual conference. COPD affects millions of people up and down the UK, and the BREATH project has done great work since its establishment in 2017 in promoting better understanding of the disease and potential preventative treatments. Partnerships like these between the pharmaceutical industry and academia are really important as they allow us to share knowledge and expertise for the ultimate benefit of patients.”

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