Qinetiq co-develops lung disease sensor

The lives of millions of people with chronic lung diseases could be transformed by a new system that is being tested in Stoke-on-Trent as a result of a partnership with Qinetiq.

The new system works by measuring bio-markers – proteins whose concentration reflects the severity or presence of disease – in saliva.

Prof Monica Spiteri, of the Directorate of Respiratory Medicine at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust (UHNS), came up with the idea of testing saliva as a means of monitoring the everyday condition of patients with serious lung conditions, especially during flare-ups of the disease, which are the second biggest cause of emergency hospital admissions.

Early recognition of such impending flare-ups could alert patients and the GPs, consultants and nurses caring for them to begin or change treatment, which could avoid them being rushed into hospital.

To create the system, MidTECH – the West Midlands NHS innovations hub – brought the hospital trust and engineers from Qinetiq together in a collaborative arrangement that enabled the Qinetiq engineers and NHS clinicians to co-develop the system. Qinetiq produced the prototype respiratory biosensor for the system at its technology centre in Malvern, Worcestershire.

Spiteri, professor of respiratory medicine at UHNS, said: ’Saliva analysis is currently used in other fields, such as testing for alcohol and drug levels, but we are among the first teams in the world to develop it to monitor the progression of COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] and other lung conditions. Using saliva is far more convenient and less invasive for the patient than having to give a blood sample.’

Spiteri’s team of research nurses, hospital specialists and GPs with a special interest in lung disease are now preparing for clinical trials of the system. Tests are currently being carried out to refine the portable machine before patient sample testing begins.

In due course, the technology will be further miniaturised to produce a smart hand-held device to enable patients to monitor their own condition in the comfort of their home.

David Gleaves, chief executive of MidTECH, said: ’This is a unique project, linking together the expertise of Qinetiq’s laboratories with the NHS to produce a device with so much potential to help COPD patients throughout the world.’