Simple urine test could stop ‘lung attacks’ and transform the lives of people with COPD

Posted by ap507 at May 03, 2017 12:26 PM |
University of Leicester team unveils innovative new way to improve quality of life of people who suffer from serious lung condition

Issued by the University of Leicester Press Office on 27 April 

A team of scientists at the University of Leicester in partnership with Mologic has unveiled innovative technology which could “hugely improve” the quality of life for people who suffer from the serious lung condition called Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

A team from the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre has been working alongside the UK company Mologic to further develop the Headstart® urine test, which alerts people with COPD that they are about to suffer a life-limiting lung attack.

The condition makes it hard to breathe because of narrowing airways and damage to the lungs. COPD sufferers are prone to lung attacks which can mean their symptoms worsen and lead to hospitalisation and even death. In the UK, three million people are living with COPD and each year the condition causes 115,000 emergency admissions to hospital and 24,000 deaths.

The project was recently funded by Innovate UK which awarded the team £2 million through the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI).

The simple, in-home Headstart test has already passed the first stage of the development process and could be adopted for use by the NHS within four-to-five years.

Professor Christopher Brightling, who is a NIHR Senior Research Fellow and Clinical Professor in Respiratory Medicine at the University of Leicester, leads the clinical study at the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre, based at the Glenfield Hospital.

Professor Brightling said: “People with COPD get life-threatening lung attacks. This simple urine test will help someone with COPD to determine  whether the onset of more symptoms really is the beginning of a severe lung attack, or simply a variation in their background symptoms which will get better on their own. This will help to make better treatment decisions and could hugely improve lives, especially as severe lung attacks can be devastating.

“We believe the Headstart urine test shows real promise, particularly as it can be carried out by patients at home. Making sure we treat patients early when needed but also stop unnecessary treatment will be of great benefit to patients and reduce costs for an over-stretched NHS.”

Chief Scientific Officer and Mologic Co-Founder, Professor Paul Davis, who was also behind the original Clear Blue in-home pregnancy test, said: “We accepted the challenge of coming up with a new way to help COPD patients understand, monitor and control what’s going on in their vulnerable lungs. Our response to the challenge was to develop a simple, low-cost test which worked in a similar way to a pregnancy test, only this one can predict impending lung problems. The test is simple enough for patients to use themselves at home, so this puts them at the centre of their own care, empowering them to take control.

“There’s a valuable, clear but encoded message written in the substances, which we call biomarkers, when they are excreted into the urine through the kidneys. You just need to know what to look for and how to interpret the message into plain language.”

The Headstart test is based upon the basic science used in a standard pregnancy test. It works by measuring biomarkers in the urine and transforms the test data into straightforward actions and medications.

The most important cause of COPD is smoking, but past exposures to fumes, chemicals and dusts at work can also contribute to causes of the condition.

Ex-smoker Martin Chesney, was diagnosed with COPD in 2012 and usually suffers two lung attacks a year.

The 63-year-old, who tested the kit for 30 days, said: “The testing kit is a benefit no-end as you are able to predict a possible attack, which allows you to take medicine before it becomes nasty.

“On average I have two attacks a year, the length of which varies, but is at least four weeks.

When I have an attack it’s dreadful, I develop a really bad cough and can black-out from coughing. I can’t lie down to sleep and I often resort to sleeping downstairs in an armchair for as long as it lasts. It is very life-limiting.”

Professor Davis added: “Mologic has already spent millions of pounds establishing the basic principles of urine testing for relevant disease biomarkers, but we could not have laid these strong technical foundations without close collaboration in the early stages with the GSK Respiratory R&D Clinical Discovery Team (including access to the ECLIPSE cohort sample bank) and several NHS clinicians and scientists. 

“Feasibility funding from the SBRI last year provided the opportunity for access to patients, relevant samples and critical clinical guidance. But, without the support of the Respiratory Unit at the NIHR Leicester BRC, especially Professor Chris Brightling, the technology could never have progressed to the “clinical starting grid” made possible by the new Innovate UK award to fund the final stages of development.”

COPD symptoms often don't appear until significant lung damage has occurred, and they usually worsen over time, particularly if smoking exposure continues

Other signs and symptoms of COPD may include shortness of breath, especially during physical activities, wheezing, chest tightness and a chronic cough that may produce mucus.

Notes to editors

  • For further details, to arrange an interview or more photographs, email  or call 01604 882342.
  • The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR): improving the health and wealth of the nation through research.
  • Established by the Department of Health, NIHR:

-         funds high quality research to improve health

-         trains and supports health researchers

-         provides world-class research facilities

-         works with the life sciences industry and charities to benefit all

-         involves patients and the public at every step. For further information, visit    

  • The NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre is funded by the NIHR. The BRC undertakes translational clinical research in priority areas of high disease burden and clinical need.
  • It harnesses the power of experimental science to explore and develop ways to help prevent and treat chronic disease.
  • University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust (UHL) is one of the UK’s biggest and busiest hospitals, particularly recognised for high-quality research in cardiovascular, respiratory and diabetes. Together with the University of Leicester and Loughborough University, UHL applied to be a Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), focused on very important disease areas, including cardiovascular disease, the largest single cause of death (500,000 people in the UK have heart failure), respiratory disease including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (this will be the world’s third highest cause of death by 2030) and lifestyle specifically focussed on increasing physical activity to prevent and manage lifestyle-related chronic diseases, like type 2 diabetes.
  • The BRC will bring together 70 highly skilled researchers, 30 of these are at the forefront of clinical services delivery. It is thought that scientists working closely with clinicians will allow the BRC to deliver research that is relevant to patients and the professionals who treat them.
  • Mologic spends a lot of time undertaking scientific research on molecular indicators of clinical conditions for which there is a lack of effective diagnostic tests. The findings from this research are applied to the development of top-quality diagnostic products which satisfy unmet clinical needs. To find out more about the company, visit:

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