What are some of the key findings, progress and discoveries you have made with your research to date – and how will this make a difference to patients with this disease?
I study the effects of smoking in the lungs and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). I am looking in particular at the effects cigarette smoke has on lipids in the cell membrane. These lipids can be released into the airways when cells die due to cigarette smoke, and I am studying how these can affect other cells in the airways and how the immune system responds to them. So far we have discovered that cigarette smoke can oxidise cellular lipid, and that this lipid can affect the ability of immune cells to clear away bacteria by engulfing them and breaking them down into harmless by-products. We are extending this work into COPD patients and hope that the studies will change the way we view the disease, and uncover new pathways we could target in new treatments.
I also study E-cigarettes, trying to understand which components of the E-cigarettes and E-liquids may be harmful to cells in the lungs in healthy non-smokers, and also asthmatics who may think E-cigarettes are safe to use. My work is showing that in particular, the flavouring component of E-liquids can vary in their safety once they are heated during the vapour production process. Our goal is to help make sure that E-cigarette users are aware of any risks they may be taking when they use E-cigarettes, so they can make informed choices about their E-cigarette use, including flavour selection.
How important was the funding from Lung Foundation Australia to your work?
Lung Foundation Australia has supported my work on E-cigarettes with a fellowship. Many people assume that universities pay the salaries of researchers who work there, but the reality is that we must fund our salary from fellowships and grants, and that these are very competitive with 10-15% success rates. Having the Lung Foundation Australia fellowship helped to make my research a reality by covering my salary for a time on this project, allowing me to devote more time to the research.
Do you have a message for Lung Foundation Australia’s supporters?
Thank you so much for your support of Lung Foundation Australia. They do such a wonderful job at promoting awareness of lung disorders including lung cancer and asthma, but also lung disorders people often haven’t even heard of, yet many people suffer from. They support researchers using your donations so that we can better understand the lungs and how disease affects them, and allow us to test new treatments that could improve the health and quality of life for Australians living with lung disorders. So thank you!