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Graduate School

Those interested in research in Respiratory Sciences will find diverse activities in several pre-clinical and clinical departments. John Scott Haldane and Charles Douglas were founders of modern respiratory research in Oxford in the first thirty years of the twentieth century, based heavily upon addressing taxing public health issues of the day in mines and sewers, in warfare, during diving, and at high altitude. Their work laid the basis of our molecular understanding of gas exchange in the body and the neurological regulation of breathing.

Clinical research focused on patients with respiratory disorders is now conducted mainly in a dedicated respiratory unit, the Oxford Centre for Respiratory Medicine, located at the Churchill Hospital. Its main areas of research have been disorders of breathing during sleep (mainly obstructive sleep apnoea), pleural diseases (mainly empyema and malignant effusions), lung infections (particularly host susceptibility to pneumococcal disease), the physiology of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and interstitial lung disease (for example, sarcoidosis). This work ranges from basic laboratory research to clinical trials of new therapies. The latter are conducted by the Respiratory Trials Unit, which is one of the few UKCTN clinical trials units specializing in respiratory trials, and conducts trials with both local researchers and other units across the country. The Respiratory Trials Unit is part of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, where substantial laboratory research on respiratory infections and lung immune regulation also takes place across a number of sites.

Haldane and Douglas were famous forebears in a physiology laboratory that is now named the Department of Physiology, Anatomy & Genetics (DPAG). Here laboratories are working on understanding mechanisms of chemoreception, genomics of hypoxia, regulation of metabolism in hypoxia, and pulmonary vascular aspects of iron homeostasis. In the 1950s and 1960s Dan Cunningham and Brian Lloyd showed the power of mathematical modelling in the study of respiratory physiology, and this tradition continues in DPAG today in conjunction with the Department of Computer Science.

The early close proximity in Oxford of the first intravenous anaesthetics (wine & opium into a pet dog in 1656) and experiments on artificial ventilation of the lungs (1667) is symbolic of a close link between anaesthetics and respiratory science that developed strongly after the appointment in 1936 of Robert Macintosh to a professorship of anaesthesia funded by William Morris (Lord Nuffield) the great motor manufacturer. The Nuffield Division of Anaesthetics now hosts respiratory studies using magnetic resonance imaging to examine the causes of breathlessness and sites of respiratory rhythm generation. This department is also developing a fast-acting intravascular oxygen transducer and applying it to the study of ventilatory support in respiratory failure.

George Dreyer, the first professor of pathology in Oxford, undertook remarkable respiratory experiments on prospective Everest climbers in a decompression chamber in Oxford in 1921-2 in the pathology department that is now the Dunn School of Pathology. Today it hosts several studies relating to respiratory infection, such as that of African trypanosomes and HIV.

Finally, of particular note is a recent MRC Translational Research Award to members of the Gene Medicine Group at the John Radcliffe Hospital working on gene therapies for cystic fibrosis and other lung disorders.

Supervisors in Respiratory Sciences