Where we started

Work first began on investigating lung symptoms in premature children in 2012. Our team sent out 26,000 questionnaires to families in Wales, half to all children born prematurely aged from one to 10, and half to children the same age who were born on time. The questions looked at incidences of coughs, colds and lung infections to try to see if the premature children were more prone to them. Around 7,000 questionnaires came back, with 4,200 from premature children. This has given the researchers enough information to suggest that there is a difference between lung function in full-term and premature children.

Where we go next

Some of the families who responded to the last survey and indicated they would be willing to be contacted again are being asked once again to take part in a more detailed study. A nurse will visit the child at home and get more information about the child and his or her health from the family. Some of these will then be asked to come to the Children’s Hospital of Wales in Cardiff and take part in a series of exercises to see how well their lungs function. It will be things like riding on an exercise bike like the one you would find in a gym, and measuring the child’s breathing.

After the testing, the children will be split into groups and given different inhalers. Some of these will be the medicines the researchers hope will make a difference to the affected children’s breathing, and some will be placebo, or dummy medicines, so the researchers have something to compare the results against. As in all tests like this, known as randomised double-blind tests, the researchers or the families will not know which medicine the child has been given, but there will be a record of it on file so that if they need to find out before the end of the test for any reason, they can.

The children will be asked to take the medicines for 12 weeks, keep a record of their health during those weeks, and then come back to the lab and repeat the exercise tests over again, to see if their breathing has changed.

A small number of children will also be asked to have an MRI scan so that researchers can get an in-depth look at the workings of those children’s lungs to help them understand more about how they are affected by the breathing issues.