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The EXHALE Programme

A London study to identify links between pollution and childhood asthma

Traffic pollution contributes to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and is an important factor in the increasing incidence of childhood asthma. As a densely populated city with major air quality issues and high levels of childhood asthma, London provides an ideal setting to study the effects of pollution on health, particularly in relation to the Congestion Charging Scheme and Low Emission Zones.

Two of King’s Health Partners’ newest MRC Centres – the MRC Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma, and the MRC Centre for Environment & Health, both jointly hosted by King’s and Imperial College, London – have recently joined forces to understand how air pollution contributes to childhood asthma.

One of the main purposes of the MRC-Asthma UK Centre is to speed up the process of translating fundamental discoveries into new treatments for patients. Professor Tak Lee, director of the centre, is a consultant physician in asthma and allergy. A team led by Professor Lee will now test the effect of reductions in traffic emissions on children’s respiratory health. The EXHALE programme (Exploration of Health and Lungs in the Environment), funded by the National Institute for Health Research Comprehensive Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), will study children from east London, believed to be most at risk from the negative effects of pollution on respiratory health.

EXHALE researchers will work closely with colleagues from the MRC Centre for Environment & Health, an international centre of excellence for research and training on the health effects of environmental pollutants and the translation of this knowledge to inform national and international policies to improve health. The centre works with the Environmental Research Group (ERG), part of the School of Biomedical and Health Sciences at King’s College London, and a leading provider of air quality information and research in the UK.

ERG monitors air quality across London’s 33 boroughs at over 160 sites (coordinated by the London Air Quality Network). A recent study led by Frank Kelly, the group’s director, demonstrated that the Congestion Charging Scheme is helping to reduce pollution levels in the most deprived areas of London and increasing life expectancy.

Professor Kelly and his colleagues have also developed a novel assay system for the very small particles (PM10s) found in exhaust fumes which can penetrate deep into the lungs with detrimental effects on health. They have identified the importance of the physical make up of the particles: in exhaust fumes, metals such as copper and iron stick to the outside of PM10s and exacerbate respiratory disease.

Professor Kelly has advised the government on new ways to reduce pollution in London, such as a Low Emission Zone designed to deter the worst polluters (such as lorries with older diesel engines) from the city.

environmental research group
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