Meet the Scientist: How I got involved in Pulmonary Fibrosis research, a medical student’s perspective

April 2024

Here we meet Anitha who shares her story about how she got involved with pulmonary fibrosis research.

Anitha shared the following with us:

I am undertaking a research project looking at the experiences of those living with pulmonary fibrosis when travelling by flight.

My name is Anitha and I’m a 4th year medical student studying at Imperial College London. Currently, I am taking a year out of the Medicine course to study another degree, Remote Medicine, which looks at healthcare in remote environments, such as when underwater, in warzones, in outer space or in the air.

Throughout my degree, we meet with a wide range of people to understand how the role of healthcare professionals/providers changes in different conditions, and the necessary safety measures needed for those going out into these environments.

To put this into practice, we travelled to the Brecon Beacons in Wales. In collaboration with Mountain Rescue, they re-enacted scenarios that they often encounter, for us to attend to and act as first responders for (you can see me in the top right picture looking very excited with my fake patient). Through these exercises, we got hands-on experience on how the role and priorities of a healthcare professional needs to adapt when faced with limited resources and with help being far away.

Anitha pictured in the Brecon Beacons, practising CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) on a mannequin as part of the Remote Medicine degree.

Whilst this is one instance of healthcare being delivered in a remote location, another that we may not think about is flying to your holiday by airplane. Admittedly, it’s not as wild and extreme as a trip to outer space (which we do learn about on the course), but it is more common and surprisingly has scarce research surrounding it.

When we were in the Brecon Beacons, there was an importance in ensuring we had enough equipment and that we had checked weather conditions prior to hiking in the Welsh countryside; similarly, I want to find out about if there are certain precautions that need to taken when flying in the sky. More importantly, I want to understand the experiences of these patients during their journey to flying, including any obstacles they encountered, and find out what matters to them the most.

When at cruising altitude on a plane, sea-level oxygen levels of 20% can drop to 15%, which is like being 2500 metres up a mountain in the Alps! This can be a particular issue for people with respiratory illnesses who find it difficult to breathe, such as those with pulmonary fibrosis, for which there is little research surrounding their experiences in-flight.

As part of my degree, I am currently doing a research project based in the Margaret Turner Warwick Centre for Fibrosing Lung Disease (or MTWC for short) in South Kensington. This centre has expertise in working with people who have fibrotic lung diseases; including, identifying those at risk of developing fibrosis and finding markers in the body that can predict the risk of a disease progressing.

With support from researchers at the MTWC, I am investigating the air-flight experiences of people living with pulmonary fibrosis to address the lack of research on this subject.  My project will enable a greater understanding of the barriers faced and thoughts people had before, during and after flying. I am also interviewing doctors who specialise in pulmonary fibrosis, to understand the conversations that they might have with their patients.

I hope this work will help make recommendations to existing health and travel guidance by highlighting important needs that may come with a diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis.

To find out more about Anitha's research, please take a look at the video.
If you would like to take part in Anitha's research study, please follow this link to the survey.

APF would like to thank Anitha for sharing her experience of pulmonary fibrosis research. It is vital that we support the next generation of researchers. If you are a student and interesting in getting involved with pulmonary fibrosis research, please take a look at the BALR summer studentship opportunity, supported by APF.

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