Lung Function Tracker tool shown to predict future lung health and support personalised care

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Lung function trajectories can be used to predict health status later in life and support personalised treatment, according to researchers in Sweden who have developed an innovative digital tool to monitor lung function over time.

The Lung Function Tracker tool, similar to paediatric height and weight charts used all over the world to monitor children’s growth, can track lung health status throughout life in both children and adults.

The findings, published in The Lancet, highlight how the tracker tool could be implemented in clinical practice and allow for early detection, prompt interventions and optimised management of lung conditions.

Chronic lung diseases are often undetected, under-reported, and untreated despite being recognised as priority non-communicable diseases.

What’s more, different lung function trajectories are associated with different health outcomes. The trajectories most commonly identified in both males and females include average, below average, above average, or accelerated decline. Below average trajectories are associated with respiratory, cardiovascular, metabolic and mental health comorbidities, as well as premature death.

Researchers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, the University of Barcelona, Spain, Imperial College London, UK, and the University of Melbourne, Australia, developed the Lung Function Tracker after analysing data from over 4,000 children who were part of the BAMSE project. This is a longitudinal cohort study based in Sweden focusing on childhood asthma and allergy development.

The Lung Function Tracker is a web-based tool into which clinicians enter lung function measurements. These are calculated using a regular spirometry machine, along with personal data, such as gender and age, and a graph showing the person’s lung function in relation to the expected values is produced.

The tool is free to use and is intended primarily for healthcare professionals and patients who need to check their lung function over time as part of their self-care.

The researchers proposed that in an era of personalised healthcare, the tool would be a simple way to protect and improve lung health at the population level and promote healthy growth and ageing.

As spirometry is low-resource, affordable, well-standardised and non-invasive, it has the potential to be used globally to monitor lung health effectively, they added.

Professor Erik Melén, professor of paediatric medicine at the Department of Clinical Research and Education, Södersjukhuset, Karolinska Institutet, and the paper’s first author, said: ‘Lung diseases and the disease burden they cause aren’t taken as seriously as they ought to be. The symptoms are often severe, and there’s also the risk of secondary problems like cardiovascular disease and reduced life expectancy.

‘By catching abnormal levels in someone’s lung function early, doctors will be able to give personalised treatment to stop things getting worse.’

The researchers hope that the tool will help to increase knowledge and raise awareness of common chronic lung diseases, such as asthma and COPD. They are also ‘planning to gather together experts from around the world to look into the possibility of introducing lung function check-ups at a population level’.

Professor Melén added: ‘There’s a great demand for a tool that can catch patients in the risk zone before they develop a chronic condition. Such a check of lung function development as this, is not only simple and quick, it’s also relatively cheap. Our vision of the tool being used globally requires wide acceptance and engagement, and I feel we have this.’

Efforts to improve the personalisation of patient care have been increasing across Europe in recent months, such as a new project aiming to use artificial intelligence and genomics data to personalise therapies for patients with cardiovascular disease.

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