Research summary – Ashleigh Francis

Airway and alveolar nitric oxide production, lung function and pulmonary blood flow in sickle cell disease
Alan Lunt, Na’eem Ahmed, Gerrard F. Rafferty, Moira Dick, David Rees, Sue Height, Swee Lay Thein, Anne Greenough
Published in the journal Pediatric Research, March 2016

Patients with Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) are often assumed to have asthma because they have ‘airflow obstruction’, which is when airways become narrowed and air is not able to move out of the lungs as quickly or easily as in healthy lungs.
Inflammation in the airways is one of the main features of asthma. Nitric Oxide (NO) is a substance that is produced by the airways when they are inflamed, so therefore can be used to measure the severity of asthma in a patient and find out how inflamed their airways are.
As well as being produced in the airways, NO is also produced in blood vessels, and helps to widen blood vessels.
People with SCD are anaemic, meaning they have less haemoglobin (a protein in the body that carries oxygen) so their cells cannot carry as much oxygen. In order to compensate for this, the heart beats faster and with more power to make sure enough oxygen is picked up from the lungs and delivered to the body.
This study looked at measurements of NO from the airways (representative of asthma) and the alveoli (representative of blood vessel widening), and compared it to lung function tests (to look at airway narrowing) and measures of pulmonary blood flow (how fast blood was circulating around the lungs).
The results showed that the airway NO was not raised, but that there was still airway narrowing occurring.  There was a relationship between how fast blood was circulating through the lungs and NO from the alveoli. This might suggest that previous findings of high NO and airway narrowing resulted in a false assumption that SCD patients’ airway narrowing was down to asthma. This study suggests that the changes in heart and blood vessel function in SCD may have an effect on the airways.
This study was relevant in terms of contributing to medical research because it shows the airway narrowing in SCD patients may not always be down to asthma, so it therefore allows us to target other root causes of the problem.

This summary was produced by Ashleigh Francis, Year 13 student from Harris City Academy Crystal Palace, as part of our departmental educational outreach programme.

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