Our respiratory research work can be divided in to the following four broad areas:


Aberdeen has a world class track record for cohort studies and the SEATON and WHEASE cohorts continue to provide insight into the early origins of Chronic Obstructive Airway Disease and Asthma respectively.


The SEATON cohort was designed to relate antenatal dietary exposures to asthma and allergy outcome in children and cohort members will be 15 years old in 2013. Continuing with the early origins theme, the SEATON cohort remains the first in the world to link reduced fetal ultrasound measurements at ten weeks gestation to reduced lung function in childhood.


The Aberdeen-based WHEASE (What Happens Eventually to Asthmatic children: Sociologically and Epidemiologically) cohort 1964-2014 is one of the longest follow-up studies of children in the world and is therefore perfectly placed to link respiratory symptoms in childhood to outcomes in adult life. The cohort (n=2511) was recruited from a 1964 cross-sectional primary school survey in Aberdeen. The recruitment included a thorough clinical evaluation by an experienced paediatrician of 288 children (then aged 10-14) with parent-reported wheeze. 121 of these children were classified as having asthma and 167 as having wheezy bronchitis (which would nowadays be termed viral associated wheeze). Detailed assessment of respiratory function and symptoms was carried out at follow-up of this cohort in 1989, 1995, 2001, and 2014. In 2014, all subjects from the original 1964 survey, who participated in at least one follow up, were invited to take part, the protocol being identical to that of WHEASE 2001. The aim was to relate childhood wheezing and asthma to lung function decline and development of COPD in the 6-7th decades.

Aberdeen Schools Asthma Survey

The 2014 Aberdeen Asthma School Survey provides a unique opportunity to explore changes in asthma prevalence over a fifty year period since 1964 and explain these changes in the context of changes in lifestyle and the environment. This 50th anniversary survey was funded by Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland and has now been completed.

Systematic reviews and meta analyses

Staff in the respiratory group are familiar with systematic review and meta analysis methodology.  We are regularly authors on published systematic reviews and meta analyses, and recent topics include the association between maternal smoking and fetal size and pharmacogenomics outcomes.  The results of these studies often inform our clinical trials..

Exposure Assessment

Sean Semple leads the work on exposure assessment with particular focus on measurement of tobacco smoke exposure, biomass fuel smoke exposure and hazards in the workplace. The team collaborates closely with the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh through the joint virtual Scottish Centre for Indoor Air. The group also works closely with the Scottish School of Public Health Research which has recently commissioned a study of prevalence of tobacco smoke exposure of children in Aberdeen.

Work on evaluation of smoke-free legislation internationally has developed recently to research examining SHS in homes and cars with use of exposure feedback to help change smoker behaviour (REFRESH, a collaboration with colleagues at University of Edinburgh and Action on Smoking and Health Scotland).

The group also works in a cross-college partnership with Soil Science on an intervention study on biogas digesters in Uganda and international links with others in Malawi and Malaysia (3 PhD students in recent years). Other interests include indoor air quality in schools, workplace hazards (textbook in 2010), and developing methods for poorly understood exposure routes (ingestion and ‘take-home’ pathways).

Intervention Studies

Intervention studies are currently under way which will translate the epidemiology and exposure assessment skills and understanding within the group into methods aimed at improving health and preventing chronic disease. A dietary intervention during pregnancy is being piloted in 2013. Pilot studies are currently exploring the potential for measurements of indoor air quality to improve engagement with smoking cessation services and also as part of smoking cessation.

The group also has an established track record in clinical trials in respiratory conditions and also many paediatric conditions through the Scottish Children’s Research Network.

Airway Epithelial Cell Studies

Bronchial airway epithelial cells (AEC) are recognised as being important to the development of asthma but these cells remain challenging to obtain. Our group have demonstrated that nasal AEC are a valid surrogate for bronchial AEC in adults and children. Studies currently underway will extend current understanding of AEC function in adults, children and neonates.