Respiratory diseases, whether acute or chronic, communicable or noncommunicable, impose a major global burden and affect millions of people. Despite the high prevalence of respiratory disease, only 4.3% of the health budget in the European Union’s (EU) seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7) was dedicated to respiratory research. Nevertheless, several large-scale local and international population studies have been and are being performed in order to gauge the prevalence and incidence of respiratory diseases and their associated risk factors. Some of these studies have been in progress for more than 20 years, among them the European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECRHS) and its follow-up surveys. A more detailed discussion of these long-term studies is available in the online supplement.

Recently, several research areas strongly linked to the pathogenesis of respiratory disease have been identified as priorities by the EU. These areas include tobacco, the environment, nutrition and physical activity. Lung research encompasses a wide range of diseases and can be classified according to major themes that cover both the origins and consequences of diseases in an evolving scientific environment. Five major themes have been identified by the European Respiratory Society scientific committee, relating to childhood, lifestyle consequences, environment, lung infections and ageing (table 1).

Respiratory diseases are often diagnosed at an advanced stage but hopefully, thanks to progress in investigational technologies (such as imaging and biomarkers), more patients will benefit from diagnosis and management earlier in the course of their disease. However, there is still a long way to go. Over the past 40 years, only nine new major respiratory drugs have been developed and we urgently need new medications and treatments for several respiratory diseases, as discussed later.

1 Early origins of lung diseases
2 Lifestyle and lung health
3 Lungs and the environment
4 Lung defences and infections
5 Lung diseases in an ageing population
Table 1 – Five over-arching themes in lung research.

See the entire Respiratory research Chapter