Researching new methods of diagnosing lung fungal infections

18 March 2024

Could sputum (phlegm) samples be a less invasive way to diagnose fungal airway disease?

That’s what Ali Nuh, senior biomedical scientist, aims to find out during his doctoral fellowship funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR). This follows on from a Charity-funded fellowship awarded to Ali in 2020 by the Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals Charity.

On receiving the award Ali said:

“I am delighted to have been awarded a DCAF fellowship.  This fellowship will support my training as an academic scientist and enable me to improve fungal diagnostic through research.”

Fungal airway diseases

Fungal diseases affect over one billion people globally and lead to the deaths of more than 1.6 million individuals annually.

Allergic and chronic fungal airway diseases (ACFAD) are very common fungal diseases that affect patients with respiratory allergies, like asthmatics, and those with structural airway disease including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchiectasis, interstitial lung disease, and cystic fibrosis.

An example of an AFCAD is aspergillosis, a condition caused by aspergillus mould which can cause shortness of breath, cough and wheezing.

Current method of diagnosis and a potential alternative

These infections can be difficult to diagnose because infected patients present with symptoms which are common to a number of diseases, such as tuberculosis or lung cancer. This can lead to unnecessary medical tests, such as the collection of tissue samples, and prescriptions for drugs that patients do not need.

Laboratory tests are one method for diagnosis, however, this involves the use of samples obtained through bronchoscopy, an invasive procedure which requires passing a tube through a patient’s windpipe to the lungs.  

Ali’s research aims to determine if using a patients sputum sample can accurately diagnose the fungal infection and determine the type of mould causing the infection.

One of the methods to be assessed includes a rapid lateral flow test, similar to the ones used for COVID-19.  

Ali explained the importance of this research. He said:

“Reliable fungal diagnosis on easily collected sputum samples would dramatically improve how we care for patients with allergic and chronic fungal diseases.”

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