Matt’s new study – Muscle Strength in Patients with Lung Cancer

Matt has recently started a new study looking into muscle weakness in patients with lung cancer. The study is funded by the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.

People with lung cancer often lose muscle strength as a result of their disease and its treatment. Muscle weakness may make people with lung cancer feel more tired and breathless, and makes it more difficult for them to do the things they enjoy. At the moment, we don’t know very much about how weak people’s muscles become, and which particular muscles are most affected.

In this study, Matt will measure muscle strength in the thigh, calf, hand, stomach and chest of people with lung cancer and some people of the same age without any health problems. He will use tests where people have to push, pull or blow as hard as they can (depending on which muscle he’s testing), and will also use magnets to make the muscles work on their own. We call this “twitching”. Using the magnets means we can see how strong a muscle is even if someone finds the pushing/pulling/blowing difficult, which is common when people are not very well and feel tired. Matt will also ask the volunteers to do a simple walking test, to see if the strength of people’s muscles is related to how far they can walk. When the study is finished, Matt will compare the average muscle strength of the people with lung cancer to the average for the group of healthy people.

We already know that people who don’t walk around very much tend to get weak legs, and that people with lung cancer often don’t do very much walking. We therefore expect that we will find that the people with lung cancer have weaker legs than the healthy volunteers.   If we see differences in the strength of the chest, stomach and hand muscles, this might suggest that it is the lung cancer or its treatment that might be making them weak, as we know that these muscles don’t normally get weaker just from people doing less exercise.

We hope that the results of this study will make it easier to give people the right treatment for their muscle weakness – knowing which muscles tend to get weak means that we can treat just these muscles and not give people treatments they don’t need.

If you think you might be interested in being part of this study, please get in touch with Matt: matthew.maddocks@kcl.ac.uk

We want to hear from parents of young children with asthma

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.

Three brilliant boys!

Today, Oliver, Toby and Elliot came Elliot, Toby & Oliverto the lab to do some measurements for one of Vicky’s studies.  The boys had to have stickers put on their chests to measure how hard their breathing muscles were working and then wear a breathing mask for a while.  You can see the machines and the computer that we use to measure the breathing muscles in the background of the photo that the boys (and their mum) kindly agreed to let me take.

The mask they had to wear was the same type of mask that very sick children sometimes have to wear when they are in intensive care and are so poorly that they need help with their breathing.  Some children even have to have a tube put into their windpipe so that they can be given even more help.  The tube or mask is connected to a machine that helps push air into the lungs.  Toby, Elliot and Oliver were helping us to find out what happens to healthy children when they get some help with their breathing so that we can understand the measurements we get from the very sick children that we’ve been doing some research with.  Even though it was a bit boring as they had to sit still for quite a long time and try not to talk or move their arms, they all did really well and got to have chocolate biscuits as a reward.  Thanks very much to the boys and their mum for coming in and helping us out!

We’ve now measured all of the children we needed for this study and so we are hoping to be able to look at all the measurements we got from healthy children who came in to help us, together with the measurements from the sick children on intensive care, and then write about what we found in a special scientific magazine (called a “journal”) so that other people who work in hospitals and universities can see what we found out.  Once we’ve looked at all the numbers and worked out what they mean, I will post again and explain what we found.

Thank you to Robert, Niamh, Kathryn, Caleb, Ellen, JJ, Louise, Miriam, Maddie, Emily, Ruben, Ella, Theo, Abi, Nathan, Jess, Bronte, Molly, Oliver, Toby, Delilah and Elliot, plus all the children on intensive care – and of course their mums and dads too – for helping us with this project.