For Howard the simple task of walking up the stairs is a struggle. He first noticed something was wrong when he could only walk a few paces before becoming breathless and having to stop for a rest.
Howard’s doctor told him he had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a respiratory condition that would affect him for the rest of his life. When asked if he would like to participate in a new type of clinical trial to help further science around COPD, Howard was keen to get involved.
“The thing that alarmed me most about the diagnosis of COPD was having seen an aunt of mine with the same condition. When my aunt was a similar age to me, I watched her condition gradually get worse. There was less and less that she could do. She became less able to walk as she got older and eventually she finished up in a wheelchair.”
Howard is one of 2,800 patients in Greater Manchester with COPD taking part in The Salford Lung Study, a ground breaking clinical trial that explores how effective a treatment for COPD is in everyday life.
COPD is an umbrella term that describes respiratory conditions limiting airflow to the lungs. It is the third leading cause of death across the globe and currently affects approximately 329 million people like Howard worldwide.
The Salford Lung Study looks at the effectiveness of a COPD medicine and whether the treatment affects the number of times a patient’s condition flares up or worsens. These are known as exacerbations.
“The first thing you’ve got to realise living with COPD is that you can’t live life at the pace you did before. Occasionally I will move too quickly and get very tight in the chest. The exacerbation of COPD is extremely frightening. Breathing is very difficult.”
What makes the Salford Lung Study unique is that, unlike traditional randomised control trials, the study involves patient’s local GPs, hospitals and pharmacies.
Research nurse Jacky Mellis tells us why this is important. “For a lot of patients it’s the first time they’ve been invited into a study of this kind. When we first approached them, lots of patients said ‘oh it’s too far’ or ‘I can’t travel to a centre’. When they realised it was being carried out in their local GP’s surgery, it put a lot of people’s minds at rest.”
Professor Martin Gibson, Clinical Director of the National Institute for Health Research adds:
"From the study team perspective we only see patients at the beginning and the end of the trial; in between those visits patients get normal care from their practices. We use Salford’s electronic health record system to monitor patients and their safety, so every time a patient has any interaction with the health service it’s recorded. This means we can check on every patient’s progress in pretty much real-time. It’s very different to a traditional study."
Not only does seeing patients only at the beginning and the end of the study ensure minimal intrusion into their lives, it also makes it far less likely that the study will alter a patient’s normal behaviour, which can be a challenge in other clinical studies.
“Taking part in the study was an easy experience and I was made to feel very relaxed. To obtain my medication I collected my prescription from the surgery and then took it the pharmacy – just as I would do normally.” Howard said.
For Howard, anything that can be done to look into new treatments for COPD is to be welcomed.
“Well, I think it's necessary to research all conditions because if you don't there's going to be no improvements made at all. It's something I felt I had to do. Hopefully in 10 years the regime I’m on now will be improved greatly by research and lung studies like the one we are doing now.”
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