The Newcastle University group’s funding is aimed at helping health professionals detect carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, which can be difficult to identify as it is rapidly eliminated from the body.
CO is an odourless gas formed during the incomplete combustion of any carbon-based or fossil fuel, which happens when there is insufficient oxygen caused by poor ventilation. Inhaling it can make you unwell, while high level exposure can be fatal.
Dr Christopher Morris, Senior Lecturer, Medical Toxicology Centre and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Protections Research Unit at Newcastle University, is leading the team.
He said: “This work will provide us with the preliminary information on possible blood protein biomarkers which might indicate CO exposure and the stability of these protein markers when CO exposure is no longer present.
“The use of blood derived biomarkers would provide a basis for future clinical investigations into CO exposure.”
Due to diagnosis difficulties, it is widely acknowledged that the real scale of deaths and injuries caused by CO are not reflected in official data.
Department of Health statistics state that each year in England and Wales approximately 30 people die from CO poisoning, 200 people are admitted to hospital, and around 4,000 attend A&E, are treated and sent home.
Currently, CO poisoning can be overlooked as the symptoms are similar to that of a cold or the flu, which makes diagnosis problematic.
Methods to confirm CO poisoning in the body require specialist equipment that is frequently used long after the patient has stopped being exposed to CO, making it much more difficult to determine if a person has been exposed since CO can be rapidly eliminated from the body.
Newcastle University research will focus on developing techniques that demonstrate the specific effects of CO on cells and tissues, by identifying how changes in the cells (biomarkers) can occur.
These biomarkers will be required to show both the level of CO exposure and the toxic effects of CO, and need to be robust and long lasting for practical use by medical professionals.
Gas Safety Trust
Chris Bielby, Chair of the Gas Safety Trust, a UK based gas safety research charity, said: “Getting to the true number of deaths and injuries caused by carbon monoxide is a key concern of the Gas Safety Trust and we are pleased to fund this research by Newcastle University.
“Research such as this can make it easier for health professionals to spot cases of carbon monoxide poisoning and help inform government and industry about the scale of the issue.”
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