Pigeon Lung

Pigeon Lung

Meet my new clever friends from academic locations all over the country, doing research into Pigeon Lung.

In the photo, from left to right: Andrew Allen – respiratory physiologist, Ken Boyd – BPFMR Administrator, Will Henderson – junior doctor, Mark Spears – respiratory consultant, Annabel Spears – GP, Dr Richard Allen – research scientist, Emma Johnson – junior doctor, Phil Lynch (Dr) – Chairman of BPFMR, Alison Lawson – GP, Charles McSharry (Dr) – senior clinical scientist, Louise Wain – BLF professor of respiratory research, Yuan Ji – PhD student and scientist, Stephen Bourke – respiratory consultant

Additional Credits: Stuart Dickson – junior doctor, Lorrayne Kellock – respiratory physiologist, Olivia Leavy – research scientist, Christine Gall- respiratory physiologist

How We Met

Expecting to see nothing but pigeons, I was surprised that the first stall I saw was dedicated to medical research. I immediately had a connection after having recently decided that I would donate my organs for transplant or medical research. As well as being a very good cause, I like getting things through the post and the donor card looks fab.

Anyway, I was initially met by a very nice young chap who asked if I kept pigeons as they were undertaking research on pigeon lung. I always get a twinge when anyone approaches me with a leaflet as my initial thought is “what’s this going to cost?”. I felt my hand tighten around my wallet – how the mind can play tricks – I don’t even own a wallet. I’ll spare you the finer details, but basically they are looking to find out why some of our pigeon fanciers get this disease. And why some don’t, by investigating the genes of those willing to participate in the study. I started to relax when I found out it was all free. No idea why as I don’t own pigeons and wasn’t even going to take part in the trial.

A Quick Who’s Who

The study is being supported by the British Pigeon Fanciers Medical Research Trust and the British Lung Foundation. It’s being organised by a Scientific Committee of expert doctors and scientists from Universities of Leicester and Glasgow. The study has been reviewed and the ethics approved by NHS North West-Greater Manchester West Research Ethics Committee (18/NW/0843) and is sponsored by NHS Forth Valley.

The British Pigeon Fanciers Medical Research Trust have been attending the show for the last 40 years (last year was the only one they missed) and this is the first of the research sessions held at the show in a project that is due to last 5 years.

What is Pigeon Lung?

Bird fancier’s lung (BFL), also called bird-breeder’s lung and pigeon lung, is a type of hypersensitivity pneumonitis where the lungs become inflamed. It’s triggered by exposure to avian proteins in the dry dust of the droppings and feathers of a variety of birds. Birds such as pigeons, parakeets, cockatiels, budgerigars, parrots, turtle doves, turkeys and chickens have all been implicated.

People who work with birds or own many birds are at risk. Bird hobbyists and pet store workers may also be at risk.

Initial symptoms include shortness of breath. Chills, fever, non-productive cough and chest discomfort may also occur. In the chronic form there is usually anorexia, weight loss, extreme fatigue and progressive pulmonary fibrosis, which is generally the most serious consequence of the disease because it irreversibly and increasingly diminishes the lungs’ efficiency over time. As a result, sufferers may have repeated chest infections and ultimately struggle to breathe. This condition can eventually be fatal. Source: Wikipedia

The Process

So once the very nice chap offers you a ‘free’ leaflet and shows you a very large book showing part of the Human Genome (I’m sure it had been printed upside down) you’re introduced to some other very nice people who were running the study. I think these were the Doctors, Professors and Scientists with loads of ‘ologies.  So there I was met with a large room shrouded in black velvet curtains and makeshift cubicles draped with the same material – each with bright, pure white or daylight LEDs beaming down on the activities in each. If you’ve ever seen one of those bits of film where there’s been a pandemic outbreak and people are being tested – you get the idea – except this was all very comfortable and relaxed.

I think they could tell I was curious and interested, one because I was in the room in the first place and secondly because I was scanning the room and checking out the white coats, equipment and various activities. The grand tour began…

How are you feeling?

Collecting Details

It all starts with a short interview about your general health, your lung health and your pigeon keeping. I’m guessing that the photo above is where the take your height measurement, either that or there’s a height restriction on entry. I’ll let you decide. Everything is in complete confidence and none of your personal details are passed on. In part of the process of collecting information you are given a unique identification number. This is the number that is used throughout the investigations and cannot be traced back by anyone except those managing the trial.

The interviews are undertaken by health professionals, so rest assured that if there is anything of concern they will be able to advise that you should seek medical advice where appropriate. Bear in mind there are different degrees of Pigeon Lung and this research is trying to identify a genetic reason for the development of the disease, in the hope that appropriate treatment can be made available in future.

A pint of blood please!

Pigeon Lung study

Chat over and you’re passed onto the next section – Dr Dracula. Actually I didn’t catch their name but you can probably guess this is where they take a blood sample and label it with your unique ID. The chap in the photo is the former president of the Pigeon Racing Association, so let’s hope he’s OK!

This isn’t the end of the test. There’s a fancy little gadget for measuring your breathing / lung capacity.

To be honest this next part was beyond my comprehension. Assuming Dr Dracula hadn’t drunk any of the samples, this clever chap was actually preparing the samples for dry freezing. As I understand these are kept for the duration of the trial, so that if any follow up investigations are needed, this is where they can be located.

Pigeon Lung study

Well, that’s it. A very interesting bit of research. I was left by an interesting thought by one of the researchers. A little bit of dust is a problem, a lot of dust is a bigger problem. The good news is that these people are working with all pigeon fanciers and will give best advice on how to minimise the problems associated with handling their beloved birds.

There’s lots more, and lots more photos, from the Pigeon Show here

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What do you think? Leave a comment below

  1. Avatar

    Hi used to keep budgies, which I had to give up do to chest and lung problems, guess similiar to Pigeon Lung, would it be safer to have canaries is there any history attached to lung disease with canaries, would appreciate your reply

    1. Avatar

      Hi Alan
      Thanks for your comment and your interest in our work! Canaries are also believed to be a possible cause of this lung disease. We advise anyone who keeps birds of any sort to use dust masks and make sure that there is plenty of fresh air flow when handling and cleaning out the birds to reduce the risk of lung problems. We can’t definitively say that canaries are safer than pigeons as it would depend also on other factors such as number of birds kept, environment of the cages, length of time spent with the birds, etc.
      Best wishes

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