Ras Kahai is a specialist respiratory dietitian who has received Charity funding to research early dietary interventions for patients with Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD). There has been very limited work so far in this area, but Ras believes early support from a dietitian could lead to major improvements such as higher quality of life for those who have scarring of the lungs due to ILD. Ras said:

Thank you for believing in my application and thank you to the people who have supported the Charity. It’s so exciting to be able to do this research, it's going to be a great period of growth for me. If the outcomes of this feasibility study are positive, it could lead to further research in this area and better health for people with ILD.

ILD is an umbrella term for a range of diseases that cause scarring of the lungs. The scarring can cause lung stiffness, making it difficult to breathe. Patients typically experience fatigue, frequent coughing & breathlessness.

Several factors can make it difficult for ILD patients to maintain a healthy weight. Physical symptoms such as coughing use a lot of energy and it is often difficult to coordinate breathlessness with eating. In addition, medications used to treat ILD, while working to slow down progression of the scarring, can have side effects like poor appetite, nausea and diarrhoea.

Ras explains: “A lot of the patients I tend to work with are malnourished or undernourished. While many people may assume a dietitian helps people lose weight, in this patient group I do the opposite. Within respiratory medicine, there's some evidence to suggest that being a little bit bigger in terms of body mass index can be beneficial because if you've got more muscle, it may be easier to breathe and be active.” Ras added:

We have the data around unintentional weight loss linked with poorer outcomes in ILD. What’s exciting about this project is there has never been research into what happens if you try and intervene. What happens if you try and stop that weight loss and what happens if you bring a dietitian in?

Currently, without evidence that dietetic interventions work, early support from a dietitian is not a service that is routinely offered to patients with ILD, even if they are under-nourished.

A feasibility study will be carried out before a broader piece of work, to work out how research should be done. For Ras, this means finding out how easy it is to recruit patients, whether they want to come to their appointments, what impact her advice on nutrition is having and whether her patients are feeling the benefits of her support.

If there is positive feedback from the participants and positive results, Ras will then have the data needed to apply for more research funding. Ras said:

Even just going through the process of applying for the fellowship I've learned so much about clinical research. Thank you so much for helping me on this journey and supporting me.

Ras is one of three non-medical professionals who have received a Charity funded research fellowship this year. We are proud to fund not only innovative research, which will improve the treatment and care of patients with heart and lung disease, but also invest in the development of our staff. 

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