Interview with Dr Karl Sylvester, ELF Professional Advisory Committee member
Dr Karl Sylvester is Head of Joint Respiratory Physiology Services at Cambridge University Hospitals & Royal Papworth Hospital, and is the newest member of the ELF Professional Advisory Committee. In this interview he talks about his interest in lung health and his work with ELF and the European Respiratory Society (ERS).
Could you tell us a little bit about your current role - what does a typical day at work look like for you?
I am currently head of joint respiratory physiology services, spanning both Cambridge University Hospitals and Royal Papworth Hospital. This involves overseeing a diagnostic and monitoring service for patients with suspected or confirmed lung disease. I am also Lead Healthcare Scientist at Royal Papworth Hospital and so manage all of the organisation’s healthcare scientists across different topic areas. This role mainly involves raising the profile of healthcare scientists, but also developing a strategy and making sure that the objectives and long-term plans are being met.
It is fantastic because I don’t have a typical day and no day is ever the same. In my role I also get the opportunity to chat with patients and understand what’s important to them. Being part of many national strategic programmes, I also get the opportunity to influence policy changes and discuss these with patient organisations.
What areas of lung health are you most interested in?
I am most interested in the physiology of the lungs (how they work), exercise physiology and how these are affected by disease. My PhD looked at how the lungs are affected by sickle cell disease. We don’t just see patients with lung disease as their main issue, we see patients who have other diseases that affect breathing, and patients who take medicines that can cause lung issues.
My main area of expertise is running and assessing exercise tests that involve the lungs and heart. These tests allow us to find out what may be causing breathlessness when people exercise.
I’m also very interested in new developments in the assessment of lung disease.
What new developments in your area of work are you most excited about?
There is a lot of activity at the moment on new techniques and assessments to predict when things are going wrong in the lungs sooner. Many of the investigations we do at the moment require the patient to attend a hospital or community centre. We are now focusing on assessments that are completed at home and the results transmitted to the care provider. It is possible that these new devices could predict when something bad is going to happen. We are researching the capabilities and hope to be able to publish the results soon.
How have you worked with ELF/ERS in the past?
I first started working with ELF by performing spirometry (lung function tests) for awareness events at the European Commission. These were great but extremely busy events with all those working at the European Commission invited to have their lungs tested. In my role as Chair of our professional body in the UK I have helped find volunteers for similar events during the ERS Congress. I have also worked with ELF on developing patient information material on fitness to fly assessments.
I have been ERS Group 9.1 Secretary for 2 years now. Our group represents all respiratory and sleep scientists from across Europe that are also ERS members.
What aspects of ELF’s work with patients, professionals and he public are you most looking forward to being involved in?
I am looking forward to making patients and the public aware of the investigations they may have if they have been diagnosed with a lung disease, how they are performed, what they mean and what we can do better as healthcare professionals to provide patients with the information they require.
Among healthcare professionals I have experienced that respiratory physiology can be relatively poorly understood and it would be great if education could be provided on how respiratory physiology can be better used for patient benefit.
Is there anything else you would like to mention?
I would just like to say what an honour it is to be invited to be a professional advisor for ELF. The organisation does great work in raising the profile of lung disease and the need for increased activity among the public from across Europe.