Virtual lung models set to personalise asthma and COPD treatment

A team of international experts, led by a University of Leicester researcher based at Glenfield Hospital, is set to develop a pioneering tool to help tailor the treatment of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as part of a new EU project.

Professor Chris Brightling, Wellcome Senior Research Fellow at the University of Leicester and an honorary consultant, is spearheading the 5-year AirPROM* project, which is launched this month (May 2011).

The project will create computed and physical models of the whole airways system, to help scientists and doctors predict how patients might react to different treatments.

Damaged, inflamed or obstructed airways are common in people with COPD and asthma, which makes breathing difficult. The current methods to detect and treat these conditions do not always consider individual differences in the airways that make each person unique. As a consequence, people with these conditions may not receive the most effective treatment.

Whilst scientists are working on more advanced, targeted approaches to treatment, they have been unable to match these treatments to the right patients and explain the reasons behind this, until now.

The AirPROM research team will make a computed model of the cells in an airway and a physical model of the airways, to assess how air flows through the lungs and why it becomes obstructed in people with asthma and COPD.

By using these unique models, along with existing data from tests which measure lung capacity and highly detailed x-rays, known as CT scans, the scientists will be able test new therapies, which will enable them to tailor treatments to the individual.

The aim is to use this information to generate an extensive database that will be able to link the characteristics of different airways to a particular treatment in the future, helping health professionals provide personalised treatment for people with COPD and asthma.

These tools will also help scientists predict how the diseases will progress and the effect on the airways, to help monitor the future risk to patients.

Professor Brightling said: “Current treatments for COPD and asthma adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach. People with these respiratory diseases are therefore missing out on the right treatment to help them manage their condition. These patient-specific models will help us monitor the diseases and how they progress, to make current treatments much more specific and targeted to benefit COPD and asthma patients.”

“By combining the latest advancements in computational modelling, image analysis, and clinical expertise, we can, for the first time, assess new therapies for asthma and COPD and match them to the right patients.”

Breda Flood, a patient with asthma and board member of European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients Association (EFA), said: “This new model will help us to visualise activity in our lungs and see how our illness affects our breathing. By gaining an insight into how specific treatments will work, patients will have a better understanding of how to manage their condition in the future.”

Notes to editors:

*AirPROM (Airway Disease PRedicting Outcomes through Patient Specific Computational Modelling)

The project is part of the Virtual Physiological Human Project which aims to help support and progress European research in biomedical modelling and simulation of the human body. For more information, please visit:

Media contact: University of Leicester press office: [email protected].uk; 0116 252 2415

Facts on COPD and asthma:

Asthma affects 300 million people worldwide

  • Asthma causes approximately 239,000 deaths worldwide per year

  • The total cost of asthma in Europe is estimated to be €17.7 billion per annum

  • COPD is predicted to be the 3rd leading cause of death in world by 2030

  • 80 million people have moderate–to–severe COPD worldwide

  • The annual cost of COPD is estimated to be €38.8billion in Europe

Partners involved in the project:

University of Leicester

Helmholtz Zentrum München German Research Center for Environmental Health

University of Amsterdam

Imperial College London

The Queen’s University of Belfast

University of Oxford

University of Nottingham

University of Sheffield

GET/ Institute National des Telecommunications, Department ARTEMIS

University of Warwick

Fundacio Privada Parc Cientific de Barcelona

Materialise N.V.


Instytut Chemi Bioorganicznej Pan

FluiDA nv

Biomax Informatics AG

European Respiratory Society

BioSci Consulting

Southampton Medical School

University of Catania, Italy

Semmelsweis University

University of Manchester

Universite de la Mediteranee, Marseilles

University Hospital, Umea, Sweden

Karolinska Inst,Sweden

Objet Geometries

University of Ferrara

European Federation of Asthma Associations

National Research Institute of Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases

Queen Silvia Children’s Hospital

National Koranyi Institute

Centre National de Génotypage

University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire

European Lung Foundation