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Effects of outdoor air pollution on exacerbation risk and symptoms in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Project Description

Applications are invited for a self-funded PhD Student project starting in October 2019.

COPD is a chronic lung condition in which patients experience daily symptoms, but also have flare ups known as exacerbations which are associated with decline in lung function and progression of disease over time. These events may be triggered by infections, but also by environmental sources - understanding and controlling air pollution is an attractive way to attempt to reduce such events, and by extension the burden on the health service, and long term deterioration in patients’ health. Exacerbations cause over 140000 admissions to hospital every year, and in Birmingham around 1 in 8 hospital admissions are for the primary reason of COPD.1 In this project, existing COPD patient research databases will be used to investigate questions about how pollution affects COPD patients and ultimately to inform and design suitable interventions.

INTEGR-COPD is a cluster randomised trial comparing two different models of integration of primary and secondary care, involving approximately 1500 COPD patients in the east of the city in areas centred on Heartlands hospital, for which recruitment ends in Q1 2019 and follow up ends in 2020. Patients have consented to access to their primary healthcare record, and the parent study will form a database comprised of primary and secondary care data fields including (but not limited to) admissions, readmissions, symptoms and quality of life.

WM-Air – the West Midlands Air Quality Improvement Programme WM-Air is a new initiative funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Regional Impact from Science of the Environment (RISE) programme to support the improvement of air quality, and associated health, environmental and economic benefits, in the West Midlands region. WM-Air will provide novel capabilities for predicting air pollution concentrations, enabling integration of exposure information with data records for the INGEGR-COPD patient cohort. The timing of the studies, detailed clinical data available, and location of patients in an area which includes many sources of air pollution (e.g. arterial roads, heavy roads) gives it great potential to contribute to understanding air pollution effects on COPD symptoms and exacerbation risk.

Geomapping of patients in the INTEGR-COPD dataset would allow calculation of exposure to pollutants, through WM-Air air quality modelling and observational capabilities. These exposure metrics could be related longitudinally to admissions, readmissions and symptoms, adjusting for all appropriate confounders. This would form the bulk of the project, but additional cross-sectional data analyses or qualitative work to explore perceptions of pollution could also be added to ensure the student had robust training in a range of research methods. There is also the opportunity to validate the lifecourse impact models within specific cohort datasets; for example the national cohort of patients with AATD (a genetic risk factor for COPD), the Birmingham ‘Healthy Elders’ and other databases of patients with chronic health conditions.

The project will be supervised by Dr Alice Turner and Dr Suzanne Bartington and conducted at the Institute of Applied Health Research, University of Birmingham.

How to apply
For an informal discussion about the project, please contact Dr Alice Turner () or Dr Suzanne Bartington ().

Applications should be directed to Dr Suzanne Bartington () To apply, please send:
• A Detailed CV, including your nationality and country of birth;
• Names and addresses of two referees;
• A covering letter highlighting your research experience/capabilities;
• Copies of your degree transcripts;
• Evidence of your proficiency in the English language, if applicable.

Applicants will be required to attend an interview. This can be conducted face –to –face, by telephone or skype

Funding Notes

Person Specification
Applicants should have a strong background in a quantitative scientific discipline. They should have a commitment to research and hold or realistically expect to obtain at least an Upper Second Class Honours Degree or MSc (merit or distinction) in a relevant subject.

This is a self-funded project open to applications from home, EU or international students. Information on doctoral researcher fees and funding at the University of Birmingham is available at View Website.


(1) Royal College of Physicians/NCAP National Asthma and COPD Audit Programme. Available at:

Related Subjects

How good is research at University of Birmingham in Public Health, Health Services and Primary Care?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.70

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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