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The University of Southampton
Institute for Life SciencesHealth & Medicine


The human respiratory system is primarily responsible for taking oxygen into the body and expelling carbon dioxide, but it is also armed with defences against microbes. Our research is aimed at understanding major lung conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung fibrosis and acute and chronic infections to improve patient healthcare.

Scientists across Life Sciences are working together to tackle some of the world’s biggest respiratory challenges. Lung conditions affect at least one in five people and are among the third most commonly reported illnesses in the UK with millions at risk. Around one in seven people have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a group of progressive lung diseases including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, while asthma remains one of the most common respiratory problems people have to live with.

Our scientists are internationally recognised for our translational approach in taking basic scientific discoveries that have made important advances in the understanding of airways diseases and translating them into novel treatments that help patients on a daily basis.

Traditionally, our strengths have been in the pathogenesis of airways diseases, in particular asthma, and allergy but over the years our scientists have developed strong research programmes in COPD, adult, neonatal and paediatric intensive care and respiratory infectious diseases.  We are also working with colleagues across the University of Southampton to improve imaging and new culture techniques to analyse normal and pathological lung structure.

As well as revealing underlying causes of respiratory conditions, our scientists have also provided key evidence for the efficacy and mode of action of novel respiratory drugs and contributed to national and global treatment guidelines.


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Related Staff Member

Please see a selection of postgraduate courses related to this subject area below. 

For the full range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses at the University of Southampton, please visit our courses webpages

MSc Global Health

The MSc in Global Health provides training on the principles, methods and research skills necessary to understand, interpret and solve critical global health challenges.

MSc Health Psychology

Explore how psychological knowledge can improve wellbeing and manage chronic illness.

MSc Allergy

As a World Allergy Organisation Centre of Excellence, we will give you a greater understanding of allergic diseases and  patient treatment.

MSc Genomic Medicine

This MSc includes study of the genomics an informatics of rare and common diseases, cancer and infectious diseases, which can be applied to clinical practice and medical research.

MSc Health Sciences

This flexible MSc degree programme can be tailored to individual ambitions and professional interests.

Photo of Ravi Pal
“Interdisciplinary Research provides single platform to the researchers from different discipline to apply their knowledge on the same problem for the welfare of human beings.”
Ravi PalPhD in Engineering and the Environment, 2017

Respiratory Theme in the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre

Teams of biomedical scientists and clinicians are working together within the Respiratory Theme to address major unmet needs in respiratory and allergy medicine across the whole life-course, from neonates to old age. Working with other UK and overseas universities, research organisations and pharmaceutical companies, they are tackling diseases such as asthma, lung cancer, COPD and rare lung diseases for which therapies are limited. Research aims to address three stages of care, from better prevention of disease, through earlier and more accurate diagnoses, to developing treatments personalised to each individual, including managing end-of-life care with dignity.

One such programme is the €22 million European Consortium on severe asthma (UBIOPRED) which focuses on improving the understanding of severe disease to enable better patient phenotyping and develop human models of asthma through the use of a multi-dimensional systems biology approach, harnessing complex data from clinical, imaging, omics biomarkers, genetic and physiological analyses. Southampton is leading two key work packages in the programme – omics and bronchoscopy.

Our medical scientists are also working to evaluate the ADAM33 gene which they had found to be associated with the development of asthma. By targeting a gene close to the origin of asthma, we hope that some of the inhibitors may be developed as disease-modifying drugs.

Additionally, our imaging group has pioneered techniques for the use of 3D multimodality imaging to assess the fate of inhaled aerosol in the body, which have contributed to the significant improvements in the efficiency of inhalation therapy devices over recent years and we have also worked with partners in the America and Austria, using imaging data to validate computer models of aerosol deposition.


Modifying the respiratory bacterial flora to protect against severe infections

Bacterial infections of the upper respiratory tract are commonly the first step in a number of diseases including pneumonia, exacerbations of COPD and cystic fibrosis, otitis media, sinusitis, whooping cough and meningitis. Our infectious disease specialists are currently performing two novel worldwide studies involving controlled human infections of human volunteers.

In the first study, funded by the EU Horizon 20:20 Programme, our researchers are examining the immune system’s early responses to an infection of Whooping Cough bacterium (Bordetella pertussis). All volunteers are infected with the bacterium but then safely treated with antibiotics during a 17-day in hospital at the NIHR Clinical Research Facility.

In the second study, funded by the Medical Research Council, volunteers are infected with genetically modified, harmless bacteria called Neisseria lactamica, to determine whether bacterial genes inserted into a `vector`can induce physiological and immunological responses during infection of the respiratory tract.

These studies are providing important new information that will help protect people from severe bacterial infections of the respiratory tract.

Contacts:  Professor Robert Read

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