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There is currently no single, simple way to diagnose asthma. Research is essential to changing that and ensuring that people receive the most accurate diagnosis and the high-quality care that they need.

Asthma + Lung UK funds research projects aimed at improving the diagnosis and care that people with asthma receive. These are the current projects that we fund in this area.


Diagnostics 2019 round


New blood test detects miRNA molecules to diagnose asthma

  • Researcher: Dr Ramesh Kurukulaaratchy
  • Institution: University of Southampton
  • Grant amount: £208,276
  • Grant duration: 36 months
  • Start date: August 2020

Project title: Circulating miRNAs as a diagnostic test for asthma and to identify asthma severity risk

Dr Ramesh Kurukulaaratchy is aiming to develop a revolutionary way of diagnosing asthma – via a simple blood test. The blood test is based on new evidence that small molecules, called microRNAs (miRNAs), are different in people who are asthmatic compared to non-asthmatics. miRNAs can have a big impact on the activities of immune cells that cause inflammation of the airways. Although how they do this exactly is still unknown, miRNAs circulate in the blood and are easily detectable. Using cutting-edge technologies, the researchers can identify the differences in these miRNAs to provide an accurate diagnosis of asthma and gain an insight into how severe the asthma is.

Potential Impact: The research will allow the development of a new diagnostic blood test for asthma that is accurate, reliable and relatively non-invasive. Therefore, the miRNA blood test has the potential to transform asthma diagnosis.


Using your personalised ‘breath print’ to diagnose asthma.

  • Researcher: Dr Thomas Brown
  • Institution: Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Grant amount: £234,221
  • Grant duration: 24 months
  • Start date: January 2021

Project title: Diagnosing and phEnotyping asThma using thE InflammacheCk™ Breath-PrinT - The DETECT Study.

Dr Thomas Brown is aiming to use the InflammacheckTM device to create a personalised ‘breath print’ for individuals with asthma. InflammacheckTM devices can accurately measure levels of important chemicals in the breath, such as hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), which is known to be different in asthmatic and non-asthmatic individuals. The measurements of these chemicals are then compiled to make a personalised ‘breath print’ that is also able to identify the type of asthma an individual has. This highly specific method could lead to the tailoring of each patient’s treatment.

Potential Impact: By generating a personalised ‘breath print’ for asthma patients to understand what type of asthma they have, this will be extremely helpful in providing effective treatment to asthmatic patients.


New diagnostic devices determine if wheezing in children is due to asthma

  • Researcher: Dr Clare Murray
  • Institution: University of Manchester
  • Grant amount: £233,283
  • Grant duration: 36 months
  • Start date: February 2021

Project title: Novel diagnostic approaches to asthma in children - a feasibility study

Currently there are no reliable tests that can tell whether wheezing in children is due to asthma or an unrelated condition. A lot of the tests currently used are designed for adults, making them difficult to carry out in children. Dr Clare Murray wants to take advantage of two new diagnostic devices, the InflammacheckTM and Ventica® system, to revolutionise the diagnosis of asthma in young children. Importantly, the devices will both be specifically looking at ‘tidal breathing’ (inhaling and exhaling during normal restful breathing), which is easier to measure in children than the traditional forced exhaling required by devices commonly used in adults. The InflammacheckTM breath test is a new “bed-side” device that can measure hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) levels in the breath with immediate results. Previous studies have shown this to be highly elevated in patients with Asthma. The Ventica® system measures how much breathing changes from one breath to another during sleep, using electrodes (like sticking plasters). Early tests suggest that breathing out is much more irregular in very young children with asthma.

Potential impact: This research will determine if ‘tidal breathing’ measurements could improve the diagnosis of asthma in young children to the level already seen in adults.


Diagnostics 2018 round


 Testing a new device to measure gases in exhaled breath to diagnose asthma in hospitals and GP surgeries

  • Researcher: Dr Hitasha Rupani
  • Institution: Queen Alexander Hospital, Portsmouth
  • Grant amount: £213,991
  • Grant duration: 36 months
  • Start date: September 2019

Project title: A study of the N-TiDal B devIce in Asthma diaGNOsiS in routine clinical carE (DIAGNOSE)

A company called Cambridge Respiratory Innovations Limited (CRiL), a collaborator in this research, has developed a low-cost, hand-held device called N-Tidal C, which measures the CO2 that a patient breathes out. The device measures the CO2 pattern when a patient is breathing in and out normally, without causing discomfort. The device could be used in a GP surgery or a hospital outpatient clinic, alongside the other tests that patients normally have for breathing problems. Although the CO2 patterns for a few patients suggest that there are differences between people with and without asthma, researchers do not yet know for sure if this is the case for everyone. In this study, Dr Rupani and her team will compare the results of this test with the results of the breathing tests that patients have to do at the moment to assess whether waveform can be used to diagnose asthma independently or whether it can improve the current diagnosis when used together with other diagnostic tests.

Potential Impact: At the end of this study, we will know how the N-Tidal CO2 test can help healthcare professionals to diagnose asthma. This will help make the journey to diagnosis quicker, better and cheaper.


A system to help doctors and nurses in general practice diagnose asthma more easily 

  • Researcher: Professor Hilary Pinnock
  • Institution: University of Edinburgh
  • Grant amount: £210,258.50
  • Grant duration: 36 months
  • Start date: May 2019

Project title: A clinical decision support system to improve asthma diagnosis in primary care: delivering a more accurate, personalised and understandable diagnostic experience

Professor Pinnock and her team want to find out more about what healthcare professionals need and want from a Clinical Decision Support System (CDSS), remembering that to be successfully adopted into practice the software has to integrate with how they work, be easy to use and ideally save time. They want to learn more from patients about their experience of being diagnosed with asthma so that the CDSS can then help individuals with asthma find out more about the diagnostic process through their part of the software. They then want to develop a prototype CDSS that can work within general practice electronic health records software. They will then find out how useful the CDSS is when used in normal everyday healthcare by testing it in a small number of general practices to check that it works. The results of this test will inform a future full scale trial. Professor Pinnock’s team will work closely with their technical partners, Optimum Patient Care (database experts) and Tactuum (software developers) to feed all the information gathered from the patients and professionals into a prototype CDSS. 

Potential Impact: The outcomes of this research will aim to improve asthma diagnostic pathways, including Better assessments of asthma, more personalised treatment and better diagnosis information.


Can we improve the way that asthma is diagnosed using new tests?

  • Researcher: Dr Clare Murray
  • Institution: University of Manchester
  • Grant amount: £236,090
  • Grant duration: 36 months
  • Start date: February 2019

Project title: Novel tests of small airway physiology and biomarkers for asthma diagnosis and predicting response to inhaled corticosteroids (ICS)

Dr Murray’s research aims to study whether the tests of small airway function, and the breath tests in individuals with a history suggestive of asthma, will be better than the traditional large airways tests, i.e., better at determining if asthma is present or not. She also wants to find out whether the results of these new tests will improve faster in people when they have been treated with inhaled corticosteroids (ICS; first line treatment for persistent asthma) than the traditional tests; so that these tests can be used to predict early-on if someone is likely to respond to steroid treatment.

Dr Murray and her team have developed a method for the collection and analysis of exhaled breath (breath that is blown out), which is non-invasive, safe and reliable. This breath can then be analysed for different types of chemicals within the breath (Volatile Organic Compounds; VOCs)

Potential Impact: This research will determine whether measurements of the small airways can improve asthma diagnosis and whether we can predict who will and won’t respond to treatment.


Asthma + Lung UK Centre for Applied Research

The Asthma + Lung UK Centre for Applied Research is one of our flagship research centres, supporting cutting-edge, world-leading research. Asthma + Lung UK funded the Centre for Applied Research in May 2014, to complement the MRC-Asthma + Lung UK Centre. The Applied Centre includes researchers from all over the country and from universities and NHS organisations.

Understanding the underlying biology of asthma

Developing better medicines and treatments for asthma