Lighting up the lungs - developing more effective diagnostic tools for lung disease

Posted by Dr Helen Szoor-McElhinney on 16 February 2018
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Diseases that attack the lungs are some of the most common in the world: asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia are just a few examples. Currently, diagnosing bacterial infections relies on a slow process of detection followed by biopsy and lab-based culture growth – procedures that are prone to contamination and can result in late treatment. As a result, nearly half of ventilated patients who develop a particularly serious form of pneumonia die in hospital, therefore there is a strong clinical need to provide better diagnostic tools for doctors to use.

The EPSRC Proteus project is developing a suite of technologies to improve the diagnoses and treatment of lung disease spanning critically ill patients with devastating lung injury to patients with lung cancer. Ongoing clinical studies are using chemical probes sprayed locally into the lungs to bind to harmful bacteria, allowing doctors to diagnose possible lung infections within minutes at the bedside.

Diagnosing patients quickly and accurately in this way will enable doctors to treat with the correct medication as well as reducing the need for unnecessary antibiotics.

New technologies

Chemical probes have been developed to detect other disease processes, such as inflammation and scarring and suspected cancer as well as bacteria and these are all now in clinical trials. Currently the technology has been developed specifically for lung disease but doctors hope to use this technology to diagnose a wide range of patients and diseases in the future.

The Proteus team are also developing a camera that can be used by doctors to locate medical devices (such as tiny endoscopes) within a patient's body. The camera is currently undergoing a series of laboratory tests before preparing it for clinical use.

Heading stateside

We are very excited to join UK Research and Innovation in Texas this week to showcase Proteus technology at the Annual Congress of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). We will be a part of an exciting programme which will highlight some of the UK's most recent scientific breakthroughs through exhibits and presentations by academics from across the broad spectrum of UK research and innovation.

"We are really looking forward to talking with audiences at the AAAS conference about our fantastic healthcare technologies and how they will make significant improvements for patients' health and wellbeing"

Helen Szoor-McElhinney

Investing in the future

Looking ahead, the announcement made by EPSRC in December 2017 to award follow on funding will allow the team to retain the world-leading expertise of its early career and at the same time continuing to build and grow the technology powerhouse that is Proteus. It will allow the regulatory framework and translational pathway that has been developed as part of Proteus to be used, not only by Proteus, but also by multiple other partners as part of an integral Healthcare Technologies Accelerator Facility (HTAF). Proteus has also made long-term investments in world-leading sensor technologies that are opening up totally new avenues in healthcare. EPSRC's next step investment will allow these new technologies to be exploited for the full benefit of UK healthcare.

For more information:


In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Portrait photo of Helen-Szoor McElhinney
Name: Dr Helen Szoor-McElhinney
Job title: Public Engagement Strategist
Section / Team: EPSRC Proteus Project
Department: College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
Organisation: University of Edinburgh

As EPSRC Proteus Public Engagement Strategist, Dr Helen Szoor-McElhinney is responsible for the strategic direction of Proteus' Public Engagement work. She has a research background of 15 years in molecular biology and parasitology and has held research positions in universities across the UK as well as the Karolinska Institute, Sweden. As a scientific researcher Helen began working in Public Engagement with Research within Scottish schools, colleges and universities before joining the Proteus group. The EPSRC Proteus project allows her to work with a large interdisciplinary team of scientists and clinicians to share research with the wider public around the impact of healthcare technologies on health and wellbeing. She received a Royal Academy of Engineering Ingenious Award to work with school teachers and students to learn more about bioengineering and the role of science within society. Helen continues to inspire and empower a wide range of audiences to connect and engage with scientific research and the active role they can play in shaping that research in the future.