World COPD Day

Today is World COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) Day.  COPD is the name we use to describe a number of different breathing problems, such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema.  COPD is usually, though not always, caused by smoking.  People in developed countries like the UK are becoming more aware of how dangerous smoking is for your health and so fewer people are smoking these days.  In developing countries such as China and India, smoking rates are increasing and so we expect that the number of people across the world who have COPD will increase hugely in the next twenty years or so.  Although there are lots of people working to develop new treatments for COPD, the best thing we can do is try and help people stop smoking – or, even better, not to start in the first place.

Living with COPD can be very difficult.  People with severe COPD often become very breathless, even when doing things that healthy people find easy such as getting dressed or walking from one room to another at home.  Even people with milder COPD whose lungs are still working quite well may find themselves getting more breathless than usual, and so may choose not to be as active.  This can result in them becoming weak and less fit, which can in turn make their breathlessness worse.  Research – some of it done in our lab – has shown that exercise classes (called ‘pulmonary rehabilitation’, or PR) can help to make people with COPD stronger and fitter, which can mean that they fight off infections more easily and are less likely to be admitted to hospital. There is a lot of other research happening across the world to develop new treatments for COPD, but we know that the best things people can do to help their breathing if they have COPD are also the simplest:  stop smoking, do PR, and have the ‘flu jab.

These videos from the British Lung Foundation show how two people’s lives have been affected by COPD.

Unexpected extra things I’ve learnt in this job – from Vicky

My job is to be a researcher.  This means I have to do scientific projects (usually something to do with measuring breathing in children), and then also other things like teaching students, giving talks, planning new projects, and writing summaries of the research projects that I have finished.  When I started working at King’s in 2009, what I didn’t realise was all the other things I was going to learn along the way…

Fixing computers:  this is something I do a lot.  This can be anything from sorting out the settings on the computer when the university or hospital changes our internet connection, to knowing how to speed up a super-slow-running computer, to knowing the tricks for installing some handy software, to remembering where that one single cable is in the many boxes of wires we have (and each box seems to contain about 15 million wires).

soldering_power_connectorSoldering cables:  We use lots and lots of wires and cables in our work, and sometimes they get a bit damaged.  I have learnt how to put old cables back together and to make new ones using a special bit of equipment that heats the metal up so hot that it melts (I have also learnt to be super-careful when doing this…).

Connecting different sizes of tubing together:  This sounds simple, but it never is.  Most of our experiments involve breathing through some kind of tube, and often we need to connect several different tubes so that we can measure lots of different things.  The connections have to be airtight so that our measurements are accurate.  The tubes never seem to quite fit together, but I have learnt in my time here exactly which little plastic or rubber bit fits on which tube so that two pieces can be joined together.  My hands have also got a lot stronger with all the putting together and taking apart of tightly-fitting connections.  This skill was pretty useful when I replaced my bathroom at home and did all the plumbing myself!

Ignoring the strange looks people Body boxgive me as I walk along the corridor with weird bits of equipment:  We often have to move big bits of kit around.  My favourite time was when Alan and I had to move our “body box” (the same as the one in the picture – it’s about the size of a telephone box) from one side of the hospital to the other.  It was quite funny seeing people’s faces as we came through doors or out of lifts.

Tricks for getting very young children to do the tests right:  If someone moves around or talks when I am measuring their breathing muscles, we don’t get good pictures.  I have a few things I use to try and keep the little ones still, but I probably need to get a bit better at this…  Some of our other breathing tests need people to blow really hard, and we make lots of noise and have heaps of fun doing these tests with younger children!

Other things I do:  Fixing the toilet seat (the one in the men’s toilet always comes loose), re-wiring plugs, teaching people how to use the air conditioning (why does everyone struggle with this?), finding nice but cheap places to stay when we have to go to other countries for conferences (I did get this really wrong once – Alan and Ged haven’t quite forgiven me yet) – and writing a blog!