University of Leicester researcher in potential medical breakthrough
“This new drug could be a game changer for future treatment of asthma” – Professor Chris Brightling, NIHR Senior Research Fellow at the University of Leicester
The first new asthma pill for nearly 20 years has the power to significantly reduce the severity of the condition, a study led by the University of Leicester has found.
The research was funded by Novartis Pharmaceuticals, National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and the EU (AirPROM), and is described by the lead researcher as “a game changer for future treatment of asthma.”
Three people die every day because of asthma attacks and research shows that two thirds of asthma deaths are preventable, according to Asthma UK.
Fevipiprant (QAW039) significantly decreased the symptoms of asthma, improved lung function, reduced inflammation and repaired the lining of airways.
The drug is currently being evaluated in late stage clinical trials for efficacy in patients with severe asthma, according to ClinTrials.gov.
A total of 61 people took part in the research. One group was given 225mg of the drug twice a day for 12 weeks and the other participants were assigned to a placebo group. Fevipiprant and the placebo were added to the medications the participants were already taking.
The study was designed primarily to examine the effects on inflammation in the airway by measuring the sputum eosinophil count.
The sputum eosinophil is an inflammation measurement of a white blood cell that increases in asthma and is used to assess the severity of this condition.
People who do not have asthma have a percentage of less than one and those with moderate-to-severe asthma typically have a reading of about five per cent.
The rate in people with moderate-to-severe asthma taking the medication was reduced from an average of 5.4 percent to 1.1 percent over 12 weeks, according to the study published today in the prestigious The Lancet Respiratory Medicine journal.
Professor Christopher Brightling, who is a NIHR Senior Research Fellow and Clinical Professor in Respiratory Medicine at the University of Leicester, led the study at the NIHR Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit, which is based at the Glenfield Hospital in Leicester.
Professor Brightling said: “A unique feature of this study was how it included measurements of symptoms, lung function using breathing tests, sampling of the airway wall and CT scans of the chest to give a complete picture of how the new drug works.
“Most treatments might improve some of these features of disease, but with Fevipiprant improvements were seen with all of the types of tests.
“We already know that using treatments to target eosinophilic airway inflammation can substantially reduce asthma attacks.
“This new treatment, Fevipiprant, could likewise help to stop preventable asthma attacks, reduce hospital admissions and improve day-to-day symptoms- making it a ‘game changer’ for future treatment.”
Gaye Stokes from Grantham in Lincolnshire has had severe asthma for 16 years. She took part in the trial and was part of the Fevipiprant group.
The 54-year-old said: “I knew straight away that I had been given the drug. I felt like a completely different person. I had more get up and go, I was less wheezy and for the first time in years I felt really, really well.
“For me, it felt like a complete wonder drug and I can’t wait for it to be available because I really think it could make a huge difference to me.”
After the 12 week trial and Gaye stopped receiving the drug, she said her health started to “go downhill again very quickly”.
Professor Brightling added that the latest advance underpinned the work of the Leicester Precision Medicine Institute, a Centre of Excellence that coalesces and aligns the research missions of the University of Leicester and the NHS in Leicester.
Future treatment of human disease will increasingly move from a ‘one size fits all’ approach to one of tailoring the treatment to the individual patient.
Asthma is a long-term condition that affects the airways. When a person with asthma comes into contact with something that irritates their sensitive airways it causes the body to react in several ways which can include wheezing, coughing and can make breathing more difficult.
The NIHR Leicester Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit – a partnership between the University of Leicester and Leicester’s Hospitals – focuses on promoting the development of new and effective therapies for the treatment of respiratory diseases including severe asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
An accurate method for spacecraft navigation takes a leap forward today as the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and the University of Leicester publish a paper that reveals a spacecraft’s position in space in the direction of a particular pulsar can be calculated autonomously, using a small X-ray telescope on board the craft, to an accuracy of 2km.
The method uses X-rays emitted from pulsars, which can be used to work out the position of a craft in space in 3D to an accuracy of 30 km at the distance of Neptune. Pulsars are dead stars that emit radiation in the form of X-rays and other electromagnetic waves. For a certain type of pulsar, called ‘millisecond pulsars’, the pulses of radiation occur with the regularity and precision of an atomic clock and could be used much like GPS in space.
The paper, published in Experimental Astronomy, details simulations undertaken using data, such as the pulsar positions and a craft’s distance from the Sun, for a European Space Agency feasibility study of the concept. The simulations took these data and tested the concept of triangulation by pulsars with current technology (an X-ray telescope designed and developed by the University of Leicester) and position, velocity and timing analysis undertaken by NPL. This generated a list of usable pulsars and measurements of how accurately a small telescope can lock onto these pulsars and calculate a location. Although most X-ray telescopes are large and would allow higher accuracies, the team focused on technology that could be small and light enough to be developed in future as part of a practical spacecraft subsystem. The key findings are:
– At a distance of 30 astronomical units – the approximate distance of Neptune from the Earth – an accuracy of 2km or 5km can be calculated in the direction of a particular pulsar, called PSR B1937+21, by locking onto the pulsar for ten or one hours respectively
– By locking onto three pulsars, a 3D location with an accuracy of 30km can be calculated
This technique is an improvement on the current navigation methods of the ground-based Deep Space Network (DSN) and European Space Tracking (ESTRACK) network as it:
– Can be autonomous with no need for Earth contact for months or years, if an advanced atomic clock is also on the craft. ESTRACK and DSN can only track a small number of spacecraft at a time, putting a limit on the number of deep space manoeuvres they can support for different spacecraft at any one time.
– In some scenarios, can take less time to estimate a location. ESTRACK and DSN are limited by the time delay between the craft and Earth which can be up to several hours for a mission at the outer planets and even longer outside the solar system.
Dr Setnam Shemar, Senior Research Scientist, NPL, said: “Our capability to explore the solar system has increased hugely over the past few decades; missions like Rosetta and New Horizons are testament to this. Yet how these craft navigate will in future become a limiting factor to our ambitions. The cost of maintaining current large ground-based communications systems based on radio waves is high and they can only communicate with a small number of craft at a time. Using pulsars as location beacons in space, together with a space atomic clock, allows for autonomy and greater capability in the outer solar system. The use of these dead stars in one form or another has the potential to become a new method for navigating in deep space and, in time, beyond the solar system.”
Dr John Pye, Space Research Centre Manager, University of Leicester, concludes:
“Up until now, the concept of pulsar-based navigation has been seen just as that – a concept. This simulation uses technology in the real world and proves its capabilities for this task. Our X-ray telescope can be feasibly launched into space due to its low weight and small size; indeed, it will be part of a mission to Mercury in 2018. NPL’s timing analysis capability has been developed over many years due to its long heritage in atomic clocks. We are entering a new era of space exploration as we delve deeper into our solar system, and this paper lays the foundations for a potential new technology that will get us there.”
The surface of Mars – including the location of Beagle-2 – has been shown in unprecedented detail by UCL scientists using a revolutionary image stacking and matching technique.
Exciting pictures of the Beagle-2 lander, the ancient lakebeds discovered by NASA’s Curiosity rover, NASA’s MER-A rover tracks and Home Plate’s rocks have been released by the UCL researchers who stacked and matched images taken from orbit, to reveal objects at a resolution up to five times greater than previously achieved.
A paper describing the technique, called Super-Resolution Restoration (SRR), was published in Planetary and Space Science in February but has only recently been used to focus on specific objects on Mars. The technique could be used to search for other artefacts from past failed landings as well as identify safe landing locations for future rover missions.
It will also allow scientists to explore vastly more terrain than is possible with a single rover.
The University of Leicester is a public research university based in Leicester, England.
The main campus is south of the city centre, adjacent to Victoria Park.
The university has established itself as a leading research-led university and has been named University of the Year of 2008 by the Times Higher Education. The university has consistently ranked among the top 15 universities in the United Kingdom by the Times Good University Guide and The Guardian; it has a vision of becoming an established top ten UK university by 2015. The 2012 QS World University Rankings also placed Leicester 8th in the UK for research citations.
The University is most famous for the invention of genetic fingerprinting and for the discovery of the remains of King Richard III.
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Natural sources including potatoes help to create new award-winning product
A new biodegradable and recyclable form of medium density fibreboard (MDF) has been created that could dramatically reduce the problem of future waste. Today (31 October), Professor Andrew Abbott is awarded the Royal Society Brian Mercer Award for Innovation 2013 that will help him make the critical step from prototype to product.
Almost one million tonnes of MDF is produced in the UK every year. It is a cheap and popular engineered wood product widely used for furniture and other products in homes, offices and retail businesses. However, as MDF cannot be recycled, waste MDF either has to be incinerated or ends up in landfill.
Professor Abbott and his team at the Department of Chemistry at the University of Leicester have developed a new wood-based product similar to MDF that uses a resin based on starch from completely natural sources, including potatoes.
Professor Anthony Cheetham, Vice President and Treasurer of the Royal Society said: “It is impressive to see someone take a material that is commonplace in all of our homes and solve its key limitations. Professor Abbott has managed to re-invent MDF, transforming it into a product that has much more relevance in an environmentally conscious society.”
A significant proportion of MDF is used for short term applications in the retail sector. The use of a material which can either be recycled or composted would be a significant benefit to an industry often criticised for the amount of waste it generates.
MDF is made by breaking down bits of wood into wood fibres, which are then pressurised and stuck together with resin and wax. The resin is currently composed of urea and formaldehyde (UF), the use of which is restricted due to health concerns. Professor Abbott’s new resin means that the use of UF is avoided and therefore so too are the associated concerns.
With the aid of colleagues at the Biocomposites Centre, Bangor University and the Leicestershire-based retail design company Sheridan and Co., his team have produced starch-based boards which have been made into retail display units.
Professor Abbott’s new material is easier to manufacture and easier to work with than current MDF boards.
The practical studies were led by Dr Will Wise who said: “It has been a technological challenge to develop material with the correct properties, but it is a great thrill to see the finished boards which look identical to the MDF which is so commonly used.”
The new material is easier to manufacture than existing MDF as the components are easily pre-mixed and only set on the application of heat and pressure; end user feedback suggests it is also easier to work with than currently available MDF boards.