Physiologist awarded research fellowship

Suhani Patel, a research physiologist at Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, has been awarded a clinical doctoral research fellowship (CDRF) to undertake research into Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF). 

The National Institute for Health Research NIHR CDRF scheme supports registered non-medical healthcare professionals to develop their careers by combining research with continued clinical practice, allowing them to obtain a PhD in the process. 

The merits of Suhani’s research were already recognised by the Trust last year, when she was awarded a Charity-funded fellowship, providing her with a year’s worth of funding to start her study testing a new type of breathing test for IPF.  

Suhani is the fourth member of Dr Will Man’s team at Harefield Hospital to be awarded this highly competitive doctoral fellowship from the NIHR, following in the footsteps of her colleagues, Dr Claire Nolan, Sarah Jones and Ruth Barker.

What is IPF?

IPF is a disease where scar tissue (called fibrosis) builds up in the lungs. The fibrosis causes the lungs to become stiff, reducing the amount of oxygen the lungs can take up. People with IPF usually suffer from symptoms including breathlessness, a persistent cough and fatigue. There is currently no cure for IPF and people with the condition have to live with worsening symptoms. 

There are currently many research projects being undertaken globally to find new treatments for the disease, including many which are led by Professor Toby Maher here at the Trust, who will be co-supervising Suhani with Dr Man. However, one aspect of IPF that has remained unchanged in recent years and that is how lung function is measured in this group of patients.

Lung function tests are a series of tests that are used to measure how well the lungs are working. They are used by doctors to decide what treatments patients to take. 

However, for many IPF patients, undergoing lung function tests can be particularly strenuous, causing them to cough and feel short of breath. In fact, approximately 1 in 5 patients with IPF are unable to perform lung function tests accurately leading to some not receiving the right medications or having their treatments stopped too soon. 

What is the aim of the research?

Suhani’s research project aims to test a relatively new type of breathing test, known as impulse oscillometry (iOS), in patients with IPF.

iOS uses sound waves to measure stiffness in the lungs. The sound waves are generated by a loud speaker at the mouth which creates a mixture of sound waves at different frequencies. As the wave pass into the lungs, it causes changes in the pressure and air flow, which are measured by a device.

The most significant thing about this test is that it can be done whilst a patient breathes in their usual way. No extra effort is needed from the patient and the whole test last just 30 seconds. 

The test has been previously used in children who are unable to preform regular lung function tests, but it will be the first time it is tested in patients with IPF. 

Suhani’s aim is to see whether iOS tests provide useful information about IPF, such as the impact of the disease on the lungs and whether it can predict future deterioration. With the ultimate goal being to replace traditional difficult lung function tests with iOS.

Gill Raikes, chief executive of the Charity, is pleased to see the winner of last year’s Charity funding going on to secure external funding; 

“Royal Brompton & Harefield Hospitals Charity is very proud to have played a part in Suhani Patel’s success.  Her research into a new type of breathing test for Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis has been so important that it has led to this amazing award for Suhani which will benefit many patients.  I wish Suhani all the very best with this exciting new venture.” Gill said. 

Dr Will Man, who leads a team of physiotherapists and allied health professionals at Harefield Hospital, has developed a reputation for nurturing staff to pursue MScs and PhDs and helping them develop their research careers. He said:

“I am absolutely delighted for Suhani. I am sure she will do very well, and her research will be helpful for patients. I want to thank the research office and the many clinical and research colleagues within the Trust and Imperial College, who gave up their time to help Suhani with her successful application. 

“I also wanted to thank the Charity – the NIHR awards committee were impressed by Suhani’s pilot data which would not have been collected without the Charity’s support.”

The Trust is committed to supporting the training and development of staff at the Trust. To find out more about what funding opportunities are available, please get in touch with the research development team.