Pupils help with university lung disease research project

Pollution is thought to contribute towards the rising rate of lung disease globally. PICTURE: Ian Rutherford
Pollution is thought to contribute towards the rising rate of lung disease globally. PICTURE: Ian Rutherford
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Pupils are to take part in a major university research project investigating lung disease in a Scottish “hot spot” for one of the world’s biggest killers.

The University of the West of Scotland (UWS) will work with schools in Ayrshire and Dumfries to look at the causes behind chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.(COPD)

The disease, the collective term for lung conditions which restrict airflow and causes breathlessness, was previously linked mostly to smoking.

However, cases are rising worldwide while smoking is on the decline and more recent research shows COPD has multiple causes. These are now believed to include pollution, including, possibly, fumes caused by cars on the school run.

People living in Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway are considerably more likely to be affected by COPD than the national average according to the British Lung Foundation.

It is also is predicted to be the third biggest killer in the world by 2030, according to the World Health Organisation.

As part of research programme the university will supply schools with environmental monitoring equipment to measure levels of pollutants in the air in their area. Researchers will also collaborate with local councils to measure toxic fume levels.

Pupils will feed the data into a national database to help track changes and allow researchers to make correlations between air quality and other factors such as vehicle density.

John Lockhart, UWS professor and co-director at the Institute of Biomedical and Environmental Health Research, said children’s lungs can be damaged by air pollution and called for action on air pollution to examine the level of toxic pollutants in their areas.

“Smoking is unquestionably a huge contributor to COPD around the world.

“However, it is not alone in the potential causes, the cases of which are rising globally, even as rates of smoking are generally in decline. With the help of school pupils across Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway, our research aims to show whether events like the daily school run can have a significant impact on pollution levels.

“While children are the most vulnerable to lung damage caused by pollution, symptoms like breathlessness often only become evident later in life.

Prof. Lockhart added: “Last year alone more people died in Scotland from lung disease than heart disease, and with one million people affected by respiratory disease, there is a clear call to make a change to the environments in which we live.”

The research, part of the EU-funded INTERREG VA programme, will last for five years.