A futuristic 3D method to assess how well our lungs are working is being showcased at the British Thoracic Society Winter Meeting.
In a study researchers from North Bristol NHS Trust and the Engineering Faculty at the University of Bristol compared a new non-invasive imaging technique, which uses the same 3D depth camera utilised by XBox, with spirometry - the current lung function test used by the NHS, where patients blow into a tube.
The innovative research is performed under the SPHERE IRC (a Sensor Platform for HEalthcare in a Residential Environment) programme, funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC.)
Dr James Dodd, Prof Majid Mirmehdi and their team carried out a pilot study on 100 patients who underwent standard spirometry testing whilst undertaking the new approach.
In the new method a 'time-of-flight' camera was used to construct 3D models of the patient's lungs to estimate measurements of their breathing and lung capacity over time.
The pilot study showed relatively similar results from both tests, suggesting the new technology could enhance lung function testing in the future and warrants further refinement.
Spirometry has been the standard 'breathing test' used in GP surgeries and hospitals to diagnose and assess lung function in patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and other lung conditions. It is a pivotal test but has limitations - including patient discomfort, poor technique and lack of widespread training across the NHS in delivering the test and interpreting the results.
The researchers stress that the new method is not likely to provide a replacement for spirometry, but that there could be advantages to combining both tests in the future.
There are potential 'home applications' for the test - including people using it as an early warning or monitoring system without the need for a healthcare professional to be present.
Dr Charles Sharp, study author, clinical research fellow at North Bristol NHS Trust and member of the British Thoracic Society, said:
"The early signs from this work are encouraging and paint a picture of what lung function testing might look like in the future. Refinements to the system and larger studies are needed. But the future potential of this system could be considerable.
Many people with early symptoms of COPD do not seek medical help and can dismiss their symptoms as a 'smoker's cough'. The lack of diagnosis can lead to a faster decline in their lung function.
More effective lung function testing could bring about earlier diagnosis of COPD - when treatments and lifestyle changes can be more effective."
Spirometry is the essential test for diagnosis and the assessment of severity for people with COPD and other respiratory conditions. It is also used for disease monitoring. Some studies show that patients do not always receive accurate spirometry testing and results. This can lead to a lack of treatment or incorrect treatment.
COPD is an umbrella term for a group of chronic lung diseases including bronchitis and emphysema, and is mainly caused by smoking. Around 900,000 people have been diagnosed with COPD in UK, but it has been estimated that there may be more than 3 million people actually living with the condition in the UK. [p>