Lung Clinical Research Unit

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The Lung Clinical Research Unit (LCRU) served as the core research unit of the Lung Institute when it was founded in 2000. Work begun in the unit gave rise to the formation of the Knowledge Translation Unit and the Centre for TB Research Innovation (see webpages). All three units are run independently within the Institute but have very close working and collaborative relationships.

The LCRU’s broad objective is “to perform research and provide highly specialized services in the field of pulmonology, relevant to the needs of Africa”. Its activities involve epidemiology, lung physiology, and pharmacology, lung imaging and health systems inventions. Recent and/or current research includes studies in:

  • Airways diseases (Asthma and COPD)
  • Rhinitis
  • Pneumonia and diffuse parenchymal lung diseases
  • Tuberculosis vaccines
  • Quantitative imaging for lung diseases
  • Health system interventions
  • Smoking cessation
Current research is focussed on the following:

Epidemiology – researching the causes and burden of common respiratory diseases in Southern Africa and in particular of asthma, allergic diseases and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Our research has highlighted the multifactorial origins of COPD in South Africa and the special impact of previous pulmonary tuberculosis, domestic and environmental pollution, substance abuse as well as high levels of tobacco smoking.

Clinical Drug Research – evaluating new treatments for common lung diseases like asthma, rhinitis, chronic obstructive lung disease. The LCRU has performed more than 150 phase II, III and IV clinical trials and has developed an international reputation for quality and recruitment in its custom-build clinical trials facility. The research team led by Prof Richard van Zyl-Smit, comprisesn of physicians, nurses, clinical technologists, laboratory technicians, pharmacists, Quality Assurance and supporting staff. The facilities conform to rigorous requirements demanded by local and international regulatory bodies, and are especially suitable for studies involving clinical and physiological endpoints (a full range of simple and sophisticated lung function and exercise tests is available), radiology, collection of blood, sputum and bronchoalveolar lavage specimens, and pharmacokinetics. Facilities for overnight studies are available. Projects range from early-phase single-centre investigator-initiated projects to multicentre international studies. The unit has facilities for archiving, a pharmacy and laboratories for specimen collection and processing.

Tuberculosis research – clinical safety of new vaccines being developed for tuberculosis – in collaboration with the CTBRI.

Physiology – evaluation of new methods of assessing lung function, including metronome-paced assessment of dynamic hyperinflation, and tests of airway hyper-responsiveness and exercise tolerance.

Digital radiology – in collaboration with the CTBRI, the development of automated reading of digital chest radiology and quantitative assessment of high resolution computerized tomography images. Specialized clinical referral service for patients with lung disease, including facilities for radiology, lung physiology, sleep studies.

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