One of the main areas that we focus on in our research is finding better ways of measuring breathing function. The types of tests that are often done in hospital need people to be able to understand quite complicated instructions and then do things like take a really big breath and blow hard into a machine. These types of tests tell us how much air people can move in and out of their lungs and how quickly, and can be really useful in working out what type of breathing problem people have, how bad it is and what type of medicine they need. Until children are about five years old, they can’t usually understand how to do the tests and so it’s much more difficult to work out what’s happening in young children’s lungs and how we can treat any problems. One area of research that Vicky is working on is to try and find breathing tests that are suitable for young children.
When you have a problem with your lungs, your breathing muscles have to work harder to move the air into your lungs. We can measure how hard the breathing muscles are having to work by placing stickers on the front of the chest. These stickers pick up the electrical messages that the brain sends to the muscles to make them work – the harder the muscles are working, the more electricity the brain sends to the muscles. We call this measurement ‘electromyography’, or EMG for short. We are interested in using EMG to help decide on the best treatment for young children with asthma and wheezy breathing. We have a survey that we would like parents of children who have had wheeze to complete, so that we can make sure we are planning our research in the right way to help these children. If you would like to take part, or know someone who might, you can find the survey here.
Last week we had two new students start work in our lab. Cara and Gavin are doing Master’s degrees in Human and Applied Physiology at King’s College London. Ged (senior lecturer in the department) does a lot of the teaching on the course, and Vicky does a bit too, teaching the students about different ways to measure breathing and what happens to your breathing when you exercise or move into different positions (including turning people upside-down!).
Cara and Gavin started the course in September and have now finished all their lectures and exams. The final part of the course is for them to do a research project, which they will be doing in our lab between now and the end of August. The project they will be working on will be measuring how hard the breathing muscles work in healthy adults using our EMG measurement, so they will be asking lots and lots of adults without any breathing problems to come in and have EMG measurements made. We are doing this project so that we can get a really good idea of what is a normal amount of work for the breathing muscles to do, so that we can compare the numbers we get from people with breathing problems. This means we can use EMG to give us information about how bad people’s breathing problems are. We would also like to know whether things like being taller/shorter, older/younger, thinner/fatter, a man/woman or more/less muscly makes a difference to your EMG. Studies like this are really what physiology research is all about – making measurements of things that happen in the body and trying to understand why we get slightly different numbers from different people.
Gavin and Cara have made a great start and have measured seven people already! They have to write a very long essay (15,000 words!) about their findings at the end of the project, so they need lots more people to give them plenty to write about. If you think you might be interested in coming and taking part in this project, please do give us a ring (0203 299 2080) or send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).