RCSI-led study finds digital device can help patients manage asthma

6 Apr 2023

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Developed by researchers based in RCSI and Trinity, the INCA device assesses how effectively severe asthma patients use their inhalers.

An international study led by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) University of Medicine and Health Sciences has found a novel and promising approach to managing severe cases of asthma in patients with the use of digital technology.

Published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, the study examined the effectiveness of combining information from a digital device called INCA with an accompanying health management platform to keep severe cases of asthma in control.

Developed by RCSI and Trinity College Dublin researchers, the INCA device, short for Inhaler Compliance Assessment, provides an objective assessment of how patients use their inhalers by measuring acoustic or sound-wave signals from the inhaler.

This data is then provided to the patient’s healthcare provider through a digital platform that advises the best treatment – including educating the patient on effective inhaler technique.

“This means that the digital monitoring technology can help doctors decide with more confidence which patients would benefit from a step up to biologic drugs, as opposed to continuing high dose inhaled corticosteroid therapy alone,” explained lead investigator Prof Richard Costello.

A consultant physician at Beaumont Hospital, Costello described how the 32-week first-of-its-kind study showed that INCA devices can help to differentiate between people who have severe asthma and those who have difficult-to-treat asthma – a challenging distinction that physicians often need to make.

“In this trial, we have brought a completely digital approach to medication management and we believe that this is a substantial step towards improving the outcomes and economic burden in patients with severe and difficult-to-control symptoms,” he added.

The study involved more than 200 patients with severe or difficult-to-control asthma at 10 centres across Ireland, Northern Ireland and England. Half the patients were monitored using traditional methods (the ‘control’ group) while the remainder had their inhaler monitored by the INCA device (the ‘active’ group).

Patients assigned to the ‘active’ group improved their medication adherence and were less likely to require corticosteroids, according to the study.

Fewer patients were switched to more expensive biologic medications, with a larger proportion of patients having their medication levels reduced while still controlling their symptoms effectively.

Asthma is one of the most prevalent chronic respiratory conditions, affecting hundreds of millions of people worldwide. According to the RCSI, about one in 10 people with asthma find they cannot control their asthma symptoms with inhalers, often experiencing severe attacks or needing stronger medication.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic