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Ludwig Engel Centre for Respiratory Research

Combining laboratory research and clinical studies the Cardio-respiratory Division is investigating common cardio and respiratory disorders like abnormal heart rhythms and sleep apnoea.


Professor John Wheatley is the Director of the Ludwig Engel Centre for Respiratory Research.

Sleep disordered breathing

Researchers are working to understand the processes associated with the occurrence of obstructed breathing during sleep in order to improve the treatments available for this important disorder.

Snoring has long been thought of as mainly a social nuisance, but there is growing evidence world wide of the possible health implications of habitual snoring. We have published a large study showing an increased prevalence of carotid artery atherosclerosis in heavy snorers. Studies undertaken this year have demonstrated that snoring like vibrations may be a factor responsible for triggering endothelial dysfunction. We are continuing this line of research to further explore the mechanisms by which snoring vibration energy may trigger the endothelial dysfunction and inflammation that may lead to carotid artery atherosclerosis, which is the leading cause of stroke.

Studies undertaken in 2009 include investigation of nasal dilator splints as a treatment to reduce disturbed sleep and sleep disordered breathing, measurements of the surface tension of the upper airway lining liquid in healthy subjects and OSAS patients, the impact of breathing route on the development of sleep disordered breathing, and the development of a computer model aimed at defining the relationships between peri- pharyngeal tissue pressure and upper airway patency. Ongoing studies have continued to explore the role of peri-pharyngeal tissue pressure in the pathogenesis of upper airway collapse, which is the major underlying cause of OSAS. We have also developed and published a new model of the upper airway functioning as a muscular hydrostat.

The group also participated in a study in Samoa demonstrating thatCPAPtreatmentcaneffectivelyreducebloodpressure in patients with untreated severe sleep apnoea and hypertension.

Cystic fibrosis

The researchers have been working on the nasal potential difference (NPD) technique which can diagnose Cystic fibrosis (CF), and LECRR is part of the European CF Diagnostic Network which is examining different groups of patients and comparing the nasal potential difference recordings with the severity of their disease.

LECRR staff have recently compared different testing solutions in the NPD test which will allow the NPD to be used more effectively in multi-centre trials.

This NPD test also provides better understanding of the mechanisms involved in salt movement across the human airway and is helping to find new therapies which may bypass the defect in CF by stimulating different chloride channels to move salt in the right direction.

The group has just published a study of fungi in CF, showing the importance of correct analysis for new species of fungi, such as Scedosporium.

Asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Asthma now affects the lives of over 2 million Australian children and adults. Despite decades of research into the causes and treatment of asthma the prevalence of asthma in the population continues to rise. A major research interest of the centre is the influence of mouth versus nose breathing on the occurrence of asthmatic symptoms.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is the fourth leading cause of death and third leading cause of disease burden and it has been estimated that 2.1 million Australians have some form of COPD. Research in the Respiratory Ambulatory Care Service focuses on improving the quality of life of patients with COPD and their carers by the prevention of crisis situations in the community, reducing the frequency of avoidable admissions to hospital and improved integration of services.

Research completed over the past 12 months include the outcomes of a community outreach program for patients with COPD and a review of whether patients recently admitted to hospital with an acute exacerbation of their COPD will benefit most from pulmonary rehabilitation.

Our study demonstrated that admission to hospital does not necessarily predict a favourable response to pulmonary rehabilitation.