The US Alpha-1 Foundation announced its 2016 grant awardees on Monday, May 16 during a reception at the American Thoracic Society (ATS) International Conference in San Francisco.  The 14 grant recipients will receive a record total of $1.9 million for their projects.  Among the award recipients were two Irish Alpha-1 researchers, Professor Gerry McElvaney and Dr. Emer Reeves, who are both based at the RCSI Smurfit Building in Beaumont Hospital. 

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Professor McElvaney received funding to study the risk of lung disease caused by a particular type of alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AATD) called SZ AATD.  This will be a family based study looking at the risk for COPD in people who are born with 1 copy of the S and 1 copy of the Z variant.  Dr. Reeves received funding to look at how platelets behave in people with AATD, and also explore how platelets interact with neutrophils, the important white blood cell which helps to fight off infections. 

The Alpha-1 Foundation is committed to finding a cure for alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency and to improving the lives of people affected by Alpha-1 worldwide.  The Alpha-1 Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation founded in 1995 by John Walsh, Sandy Lindsey and Susan Stanley, three individuals diagnosed with Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (Alpha-1).  To read more visit the US Alpha-1 Foundation website here.  

At the same conference, the Irish Alpha One Foundation presented findings from the national AATD targeted detection programme.  So far the national screening programme has detected over 500 people with the severe form of the condition (ZZ or SZ) and over 2,000 people who have a milder form of deficiency (MZ).  A further group have been found to have rare variants (for example F, Mmalton and Null) which can also cause lung, liver, and skin problems.  The conference was an excellent opportunity to meet others working in the field of AATD and share knowledge and experience. 

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Rising star of the silver screen, Sing Street actor Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, today joined with RTÉ Two Tube's Bláthnaid Treacy and Stephen Byrne to launch a nationwide movie competition Lovin' Our Lungs to highlight the importance of lung health for a full and active life. The awards, which are organised by the Irish Lung Health Alliance, a coalition of 17 charities, in partnership with Foróige, the national youth development organisation, are open to teenagers aged between 12 and 18 years (see www.lovinourlungs.ie). This initiative is supported by GSK.

The grim reality is that lung disease accounts for almost half of all chronic illness in nine-year-olds and is the most common health condition in young adults aged 18 to 24 years. Smoking is a leading cause of lung disease and research shows that almost 80 per cent of smokers start the habit before the age of 18 years. The challenge is to bring home to young people, in a way that they can relate to, why minding their lung health is important and how to go about it.

The top prize is a 'breathtaking' adventure experience for the winning club or individual and their friends with Ecoadventure Ireland—a chance to experience fresh air, stunning scenery and a range of thrilling adventure activities at a choice of centres nationwide. The competition is based on a number of themes—how our lungs work, looking after our lungs, and fun lung facts. Entrants are invited to make a 90-second movie celebrating the importance of our lungs and how to look after them based on one or more of these themes, details of which can be found at www.lovinourlungs.ie, along with entry details. The campaign is supported by RTÉ's Two Tube which will showcase the winning entry live on air on Friday May 27. The closing date for entries is Sunday May 22, 2016.

The Irish Lung Health Alliance is encouraging young people to adopt a three-step strategy when it comes to keeping lungs strong and healthy:

  • Don't smoke, or if you are, quit while you're ahead
  • Keep active by doing 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week
  • Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, fish and omega-3 fatty acids
  • The total surface area of the alveoli—the tiny air sacs in our lungs—is the size of a tennis court
  • The average size of lungs is seven to eight litres, the equivalent of four, two-litre bottles of soda
  • The lungs are the only organ in the body that can float on water
  • Lungs are the largest and only internal organ exposed to the external environment
  • At rest we breathe in about 14-16 times a minute or approximately 22,000 times a day, while new babies breathe between 40 and 50 times a minute

For Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lovin' Our Lungs ambassador and star of the hit movie, Sing Street, his lungs are one if his most prized assets:
"For me, a healthy pair of lungs means that there are no holds barred when it comes to acting out a scene or singing a ballad. I need to bring my 'A-game' on screen, so I make sure to look after my voice in terms of diet, hydration, and getting enough rest, but most important of all is that I don't smoke and avoid exposing myself to smoke. Apart from irritating and drying the throat, smoking would seriously affect my lung function and with it my airflow and vocal range. Plus, while my character Cosmo in Sing Street may have had to go and set up a band to win the girl, one sure way to put off a love interest is to smoke. So I'd encourage budding film-makers out there to get rolling and show their creative genius when it comes to lovin' our lungs."

Dr Jacqueline Rendall is a Consultant Respiratory Physician and spokesperson for the Irish Lung Health Alliance:
"The idea behind the Lovin' Our Lungs movie competition is to get young people thinking about their lungs—why they are important and how to keep them healthy. It's a chance to focus on the unique and powerful features of our lungs. For example, did you know that they contain 1,500 miles of airways or that they enable us to breathe in 13 pints of air every single minute? Our lungs are integral to how our bodies work, our enjoyment of a full and active life and the prevention of illness—so it pays to look after them from a young age with three simple steps:

"Step 1: don’t smoke and add years to your life by reducing the risk of diseases such as lung cancer and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) not to mention problems with skin aging and impotence.

"Step 2: eat a healthy, balanced diet for maximum energy and a strong immune system.

"And finally, step 3: take regular exercise to keep lungs strong and healthy, as well as for general mental and physical well-being."

Stephen Byrne, RTÉ Two Tube presenter, is excited to watch people’s ideas come to life:
"Your body is the greatest thing you’ll ever own, so you need to take care of it! Keeping yourself healthy with exercise and eating well is great for your heart and your mind, but it’s also important for your lungs. At RTÉ Two Tube, we are delighted to be involved with this initiative and I am very much looking forward to people unleashing their inner Spielberg for some really gripping viewing. I can’t wait to see what people come up with!"

Sean Campbell, CEO, Foróige comments:
"Foróige is delighted to be working with the Irish Lung Health Alliance in highlighting the importance of looking after lung health among our members, and indeed young people in general. Given how common lung disease is among young people, this is an initiative that we are very keen to support. We are asking people to get inventive and to get out their camera phones and direct some original, engaging and inspiring movies on lung health and how to best look after our lungs. With amazing prizes to be won, what's not to love about Lovin' Our Lungs?"

Karen Redmond, consultant thoracic and lung transplant surgeon and her team at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin have broken new ground by carrying out a new type of lung transplant procedure called ex vivo lung perfusion transplantation (EVLP). This procedure makes donor lungs previously classed as unsuitable safe for transplant.

Up until now more than 80 percent of donated lungs could not be transplanted into recipients. This has meant substantial waiting lists for those needing a lung transplant.  Reasons for this include the damage to the lungs caused by a donor illness or the presence of the donors white blood cells in a transplanted lung which may increase the likelihood of the lung being rejected. During EVLP the lungs are maintained at normal body temperature and perfused with a bloodless fluid known as Steen solution, which contains high levels of albumin, dextran and an electrolyte composition. This process helps to reverse lung injury and remove excess lung water and donor white cells.

Ms Redmond and the Mater team are predicting that while the procedure is still in its infancy it is hoped that for every two organ donors currently deemed unsuitable for lung transplant, using EVLP can restore the lungs of one. This will significantly increase the size of the current donor pool.

Karen Redmond spoke at our patient conference last October and gave an excellent synopsis on lung transplant in Ireland and as well as discussing this new procedure.

For more about organ donation and transplant in Ireland click here.

 

 

 

What is Alpha-1 Antitrypsin?
Alpha-1 antitrypsin is a vital protein produced by the liver to protect the lungs. It provides protection from the harmful effects of infections and inhaled irritants, particularly tobacco smoke. It can be easily measured by a simple blood test. 
What is Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency?
Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (Alpha-1) is a genetic condition which, after cystic fibrosis, is the commonest genetic disorder in Ireland. It severely affects more than 15,000 people, with another 250,000 carriers also at risk of lung and liver disease on the island of Ireland. It is a proven genetic risk factor for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
How Do I Get Tested?
The Alpha One Foundation provides free testing for Alpha-1 as part of a national screening programme which is funded by the HSE. For more details ring 01-8093871 or email alpha1@rcsi.ie.