Published: 30 November 2022
NIHR has awarded £1.5 million in funding for research that could help transform the lives of people with the lung conditions cystic fibrosis (CF) and bronchiectasis (NCFB). The research will investigate how machine-learning technology could help monitor these conditions using measurements taken in people’s own homes.
People with CF and bronchiectasis often need to attend hospital appointments for testing many times a year. They can be hospitalised with lung infections for weeks at a time at short notice.
Monitoring at home
The research team is led by Professor Andres Floto at the Royal Papworth Hospital and the University of Cambridge. They have already shown that home monitoring combined with machine learning can help detect worsening lung health in people living with cystic fibrosis, up to ten days before symptoms start to appear.
Participants used equipment such as FitBits and pulse oximeters to monitor blood oxygen levels, lung function and other key measurements.
They then uploaded the results digitally using the platform Breathe RM. The software uses a machine learning algorithm which is able to detect signs of lung infections. Researchers now hope to expand the technology for use by people with bronchiectasis.
If successful, these trials could transform the quality of life for thousands of people living with cystic fibrosis and bronchiectasis in the UK by helping to spot lung infections early and reducing long term lung damage.
The NIHR awarded the Royal Papworth Hospital £1.5 million through the NHS Transformation Directorate’s AI Lab’s AI in Health and Care Award. The charity LifeArc has also awarded £1.9 million. The study team hope to see whether results can be replicated in larger scale clinical trials.
The research will start in early 2023 and will involve up to 500 CF and NCFB patients across the UK. They will monitor their lung health at home and use small wearable devices. Researchers hope this will reduce unnecessary hospital visits and help start lung infection treatment sooner.
'Substantial savings for the NHS'
Professor Andres Floto, Honorary Consultant at the Cambridge Centre for Lung Infection at Royal Papworth Hospital, said: “These studies are incredibly exciting. They have the potential to provide both immediate and long-term benefit to people living with chronic and debilitating lung conditions. It is a unique opportunity to empower people to take control of their own health and reduce the impact the disease has on their daily life, in turn improving their quality of care and saving time and money for the NHS.”
LifeArc will support and advise the research team to develop this technology to meet commercial standards, with the aim of making the software available to patients worldwide. The technology could also deliver substantial savings for the NHS as a result of fewer emergency admissions and in-person consultations.
Dr Catherine Kettleborough, who leads the LifeArc Chronic Respiratory Infection Translational Challenge, said: “This new technology has the potential to transform how people living with chronic lung conditions like bronchiectasis and cystic fibrosis monitor and manage their condition. By detecting infections before symptoms appear, this technology could enable patients to start treatment earlier before they become seriously unwell, avoiding unnecessary hospital admissions and the massive disruption to their lives.”