by Owen Hughes

Around 300 children and young people in Leicester will be given smart inhalers that monitor usage and provide feedback via a smartphone app, as part of an NHS-funded study.

The study, which began recruitment in early 2024 will use the Hailie digital inhaler for six months to examine its effectiveness in preventing asthma attacks among high-risk children.

It will monitor preventer inhaled corticosteroid and rescue short-acting beta-agonists (SABA) use and evaluate asthma control, medication use and the number of asthma attacks experienced.

Participating GP practices in Leicester will supply up to 300 children aged five to 16-years-old with Hailie digital inhalers, which consist of a digital sensor that attaches to a typical metered dose inhaler prescribed by a clinician.

The Hailie device monitors how children use their inhaler and provides feedback on usage and technique via a smartphone app.

Family members and clinical teams can access this information via an online patient portal and provide interventions where necessary, with the aim of reducing the number of asthma flare-ups.

If successful, it is hoped that the study will pave the way to more widespread adoption of smart inhalers across the NHS.

Dr Erol Gaillard at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, who is leading the study, said: “This could be a real turning point for the way we help children with high-risk asthma in the UK.

“We know that many people with asthma struggle with taking their medication regularly as prescribed.

“This study represents a huge joint effort from NHS, the university, charity and the MedTech industry to demonstrate how devices like Hailie can help to better control asthma and keep children out of hospital.”

The study is backed by the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland ICB, along with the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research Patient and Public Involvement group, Health Innovation East Midlands and Asthma + Lung UK.

Dr Imad Ahmed, consultant in paediatric respiratory medicine at University Hospitals of Leicester and children and young people clinical lead at the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Integrated Care Board (ICB), said: “We are excited about the potential that this study may have for children at high risk of serious asthma flare-ups in Leicester and are pleased to collaborate with the University of Leicester on this project.”

Funding of almost £500,000 was secured by the Small Business Research Initiative in partnership with the NHS-run Health Innovation Network.

The main indicator of the study’s success will be an improvement in asthma control amongst participants, which will be measured by the use of rescue medication, as well as a symptom questionnaire and the number of flare-ups children using the smart inhaler experience.

The trial is still in its recruitment phase and  full  results are expected in the first quarter of 2025.

According to data cited by health tech firm Adherium, which created the Hailie solution, 21,000 children in the UK are admitted to A&E each year as a result of asthma attacks.

Figures from NHS England reveal that asthma is the most common long-term health condition among children in the UK, affecting around one million children and young people.