Q&A with Dr Dominick Shaw

Dr Dominick Shaw at the University of Nottingham is working to develop a simple blood test to measure how twitchy your airways are when diagnosing asthma. Below he talks to us about his work and his hopes for the future.

What attracted you to the field of asthma?

When I was a trainee consultant I was asked to work on some asthma projects at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester. I always thought asthma was a very simple condition, however, after seeing patients with difficult to control asthma I realised how complex asthma is.

As a doctor the only thing I wanted to do was to help people - it gives you an enormous sense of satisfaction when you make someone better. Research allows me to not only make one person better at a time, but potentially target a whole population – this is more difficult, but the reward is much greater.

Doctor talking to patient about test results

What are the limitations to tests that diagnose asthma?

At the moment the tests we use aren't particularly good at giving a definitive asthma diagnosis. We have four tests that measure inflammation in the airways, and also the methacholine challenge test.

The methacholine challenge test is an unpleasant test where you'll be asked to breathe in a substance that can trigger asthma symptoms. Currently, it's the only test that measures how twitchy your airways are, distinguishing asthma from other conditions.

Tell us more about your research into using a blood test to diagnose asthma

I want to find out if we can do a blood test to see how twitchy the airways are. Currently, the methacholine challenge test measures this but it's not an easy test to perform and you have to breathe in a horrible solution.

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How will your study work?

We are doing a randomised study of people with and without asthma. Both groups will inhale an increasing amount of a methacholine and a blood test will be taken before and after. We will then compare to see if there are chemical markers in the blood.

First, I'm going to see if there is a difference between people with and without asthma at the start of the test, then whether there is a difference between methacholine induced blood results.

"We have to be bolder and braver in asthma research, sometimes we don't take enough chances."

What would your dream outcome be?

To see a pattern from the chemicals in the blood that relates to how twitchy the smooth muscle in your airways is. I will then be able to take that biomarker into a bigger study and show how it works.

I hope that eventually you'll go to your hospital or GP and get a blood test to say if it is likely you have asthma – that is a very exciting prospect.

What most inspires you about your work?

What most inspires me is when a patient comes back to me in my asthma clinic to say they feel much better. They have an improved complexion, they're back at work and happy, and sometimes they give you a hug and as they're absolutely thrilled to feel better - that's a great feeling.

Do you have a message for Asthma UK supporters that will help fund your research?

I couldn't do it without you, you allow me to follow my passion, which is trying to improve asthma care and the future of asthma management. So, thank you!

Your support is moving us closer to stopping asthma attacks and finding a cure by helping fund research like Dr Shaw's. You can help us plan ahead and support future research breakthroughs by choosing to give a regular gift.