Over the last five years AirPROM has drawn on specialist knowledge of lung research in Europe to come up with a virtual model of the human lungs. EFA, the European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients' Associations, organised a final dissemination event to communicate results from this EU project.
The AirPROM final conference was held on 31 May at the European Parliament, and was hosted by Members of European Parliament (MEP), David Borrelli (EFDD/Italy) and Sirpa Pietikainen (EPP/Finland). Mr. Borrelli highlighted the success of AirPROM to develop a model to treat patients and make a difference. He also underlined importance of integrating AirPROM results into healthcare systems to improve patient care.
Pierre Meulien Executive Director to the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) encouraged the participants to continue working together to use all the knowledge that is being produced by consortiums like AirPROM to intervene in the right way for patients. He noted that health systems need to be changed to be ready to take on innovation and technologies, and that this change would need to have all stakeholders on board, from researchers and clinicians, business and policy-makers, to patients.
In her closing remarks, Ms. Pietikainen proposed the AirPROM consortium to provide clinical and economic insights on the integration of AirPROM results into real healthcare practice. She said the European Parliament Interest Group on Allergy and Asthma, that she Chairs, could then propose political guidelines framing allergy, asthma and COPD diagnosis, treatment and follow up with patients, to ensure these diseases are correctly recognised and addressed at EU level, so that sufficient funding is allocated to treat and prevent them at the EU member state level.
What is a model of the human lung?
Our lungs may look similar, but they are not exactly the same. They differ on shape, capacity and properties just like our eyes do not have the same colour. We know their outside shape but it is very difficult to know how the airways in the inside are, how they do inflate when air is coming through them and what happens when they do not work as they should because of asthma or COPD.
AirPROM comes on board to help understand more about the functioning of sick lungs, under the full name of “Airway Disease Predicting Outcomes through Patient Specific Computational Modelling”. The project in reality is a multidisciplinary consortium of 34 partners that together bring expertise in physiology, radiology, image analysis, bioengineering, data harmonization, security and ethics, computational modelling, systems biology, and health communication.
The project would not have been possible without asthma and COPD patients willing to be studied and bringing their perspective as people living with the disease. Their participation, like EFA’s ex-President Breda Flood, has been instrumental for researchers to create a virtual model of the lung thanks to patient data, to cluster those real patients into disease behaviours and to ultimately predict symptoms and treatment.
Although AirPROM will continue running, accessible project findings are ground-breaking. Professors Kian Fan Chung, Ian Adcock and Dr. Win Vos presented some:
- AirPROM is the largest study on function and structure of genomes in severe asthma and the first-ever looking at traits for inflammation. Genomic data collected has been integrated in the electronic European Genome-Phenome Archive, which will allow scientists to study the genetic basis of different diseases.
- The full range of messenger RNA molecules in airways affected by COPD has been analysed. RNA molecules are generated from information from genes and produce proteins. AirPROM analysis will help understanding the reaction to specific treatments.
- AirPROM has developed the first computational models of pulse measurement, multiple breath washout, spirometry and thermoplasty. These models allow scientists to study problems that cannot be investigated with real patients.
- AirPROM has demonstrated the efficacy of anti-DP2 antibody during inflammation and the increase in eosinophils (blood component) upon inflammation (for asthma) and enabled studies looking how bacteria interact in the airways and with the health of the patient to predict disease progression (for COPD)
- The consortium has created a micro-scale digital model of the airways that model the characteristics of the lungs based on patient-specific features, a macro-large airway model and a macro-small airway model is under development.
The panel discussion allowed MEPs and Commission representatives, physicians like Ian Adcock from the European Respiratory Society (ERS) and Zuzana Diamant from the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI), and the many patient representatives in the room to discuss how to efficiently embed AirPROM results into healthcare systems. Participants agreed that innovative projects as AirPROM are proposing technologies that can be game-changers for patients, but their cost and knowledge (both at clinical at patient side) still need to be adapted and further developed to become efficient, daily tools. The European Union has a major role to play to make the promise AirPROM (and other projects like U-BIOPRED or myAirCoach) is bringing to research, a reality for patients.
A full report of the event will be published shortly.