Making life better for people affected by pulmonary hypertension

The development of new techniques to diagnose and treat pulmonary hypertension, together with a deeply-embedded research culture, has helped a consultant based at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to win a national award from the NIHR Clinical Research Network and Royal College of Physicians.

The award recognises outstanding research leadership in the NHS.

Pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in the lungs, is a rare but very serious condition affecting small blood vessels in the lungs – pulmonary arteries become narrowed or blocked – and can lead to heart failure. Untreated some forms of the condition have a survival rate of only 2-3 years, worse than many common cancers, but thanks to new therapies, developed over the last two decades, survival rates have more than doubled.

Professor David Kiely, who has been the Director of the Sheffield Pulmonary Vascular Disease Unit since 2001 and Honorary Professor of Pulmonary Vascular Medicine in the Department of Infection, Immunity & Cardiovascular Disease, has developed a clinical environment supporting high-quality research, facilitating the evaluation of new technologies and treatments for pulmonary hypertension.

Professor Kiely’s team, based at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, provides specialist care for a population of more than 15 million people across Yorkshire, the North West and significant parts of the Midlands and Wales.

They have participated in more than 40 studies, resulting in drugs that are now used to treat pulmonary hypertension. Collaborating with colleagues in other specialties in Sheffield, the team has pioneered PH diagnostic techniques such as MRI, which has replaced a number of invasive tests, making it safer and more comfortable for patients.

Professor Kiely said: “Working with specialists from other parts of our Trust and the University of Sheffield, in particular members of the Department of Infection, Immunity & Cardiovascular Disease, Professor Jim Wild and Dr Andy Swift, who have helped in developing pioneering new imaging techniques, and Dr Allan Lawrie who has identified potential new drug targets, has helped our goal of delivering more research for the benefit of patients. I also work with a great group of colleagues and I am delighted that younger members of our team are spending time in the USA to increase our international research collaborations.

“We’ve also given patients more opportunities to be involved in research by setting up dedicated research clinics and working with patient groups, such as Pulmonary Hypertension Association UK (PHA UK), to understand  what patients want from research and how best to get patients involved.”

Professor Kiely added: “We’ve worked hard to give patients the opportunity to take part in research, ranging from taking blood samples and assessing new technologies, to trialling new drugs and catheter-based treatments. Over the last five years, we have recruited more than 600 patients to NIHR Portfolio studies, and working with a fantastic pulmonary hypertension research network in the UK, we are involved in studies funded by the British Heart Foundation, Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust, which aim to find out more about why people get pulmonary hypertension.”

The drive to increase patient participation has led to new treatments for pulmonary hypertension, as Professor Kiely explained: “When I started in Sheffield there was only one treatment for pulmonary hypertension, which required a line to be tunnelled under the skin and connected to a pump, containing a drug that had to be prepared by the patient every day.

“Thanks to patients from all around the world taking part in research, and doctors and nurses from many countries working together with industry, we have been able to develop new therapies for patients and most of our patients now take tablets. In Sheffield, as one of the largest pulmonary hypertension centres in the world, we have taken part in many of these studies and we are very proud of the contribution our patients have made.”

He added: “The award is a result of a huge amount of teamwork by a wide variety of people. I would like to thank my colleagues and collaborators at the University of Sheffield, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, including the Clinical Research Office and Clinical Research Facility, Iain Armstrong of the PHA UK, and most importantly, our patients.

“We look forward to giving patients more opportunities to take part in research and hope we can do more to improve the lives of people affected by pulmonary hypertension.”