Dr Helen Davies Receives Wellcome Trust Early-Career Fellowship for Groundbreaking Asthma Research

News | Posted on Monday 4 December 2023

Breathing New Life into Asthma Research: Helen Davies' YESI-Propelled Journey from Interdisciplinary Inquiry to a Wellcome Trust Fellowship

Wellcome Logo, White W and word wellcome on black background
Wellcome Logo, White W and word wellcome on black background

Dr Helen Davies (Department of Environment and Geography) has been awarded a highly prestigious Wellcome Trust Early-Career Fellowship for her groundbreaking project, "LungCHEM-Py: A Computational Model for Predicting Asthma Exacerbation-Risk from Exposure to Indoor Air Pollutants." This remarkable accomplishment is due, in part, to the preliminary data gathered during her YESI Discipline Hopping Fellows project, "Indoor Air Pollution and Lung Health," during the 2022-23 academic year.

Over the years, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in indoor air have been identified as potential triggers for exacerbating asthma symptoms. However, establishing definitive links between specific VOCs and their impact on health has proven challenging. Helen's project aims to bridge this gap by characterising the relationship between specific VOCs and asthma symptoms, incorporating this data into a predictive model for asthma risk based on indoor air quality.

The innovative research will lead to the development of an open-source computational model, "LungCHEM-Py," implemented in Python. This model will calculate time-evolved concentrations of VOCs in the lungs and correlate them with corresponding levels of asthma risk. Helen's project goes beyond theoretical modelling, as it involves obtaining experimental data to understand the chemical kinetics of target VOCs in contact with respiratory lining fluids and the asthma responses of lung epithelial cells following VOC exposure. The YESI Discipline Hopping Fellows project provided Proof of Concept for this part of the project.

Collaborating across departments, the project brings together the expertise of the Department of Environment & Geography, Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratories, and the Department of Biology. This interdisciplinary approach highlights the comprehensive nature of the research, encompassing environmental science, atmospheric chemistry, and biological responses.

The Wellcome Trust Early-Career Fellowship is a testament to Helen's dedication and the project's potential to significantly advance our understanding of indoor air pollutants' impact on respiratory health. The fellowship, covering salary and up to £400,000 for research expenses over a period of five years, is designed to support early-career researchers from any discipline who are poised to make transformative contributions to human life, health, and well-being.

By the end of the fellowship, Helen will not only have made substantial contributions to the field of respiratory health but will also be well-prepared to lead her own independent research program. This accomplishment not only reflects Helen's exceptional abilities as a researcher but also underscores the importance of collaborative, interdisciplinary efforts in addressing complex health challenges.

The impact of Helen's work is expected to extend far beyond the academic realm, potentially leading to advancements in asthma management, indoor air quality regulations, and overall improvements in public health. As we celebrate Helen Davies' achievement, we also anticipate the far-reaching positive consequences that her research may bring to individuals and communities worldwide.