Queen’s University is to recruit 1,000 people to take part in a “groundbreaking” research study into COPD.
COPD is an incurable lung condition which affects three million people across the UK.
The university’s research aims to identify people who are at risk, by conducting research into the very early stages of the disease.
A group of young adult smokers, aged 30 to 45, will be established and the research team will track changes in their lung function over time.
The aim is to identify and study people whose lung function is beginning to decline.
Ian Jarrold from the British Lung Foundation, which is supporting the project, said: “COPD can be incredibly life-limiting for people.
“There remains an urgent need to provide people with better treatments, but this is dependent on us gaining a better understanding of how the condition develops.
“This study will be invaluable in helping us answer these questions.”
COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, makes breathing difficult because the airways have been narrowed - and is a significant cause of illness and death.
People who smoke are said to be particularly at risk.
There are over 10,000 people in the Belfast trust area with a diagnosis of COPD, which is around a quarter of all registered COPD patients in Northern Ireland.
The British Lung Foundation says people with COPD in Northern Ireland are more likely to end up being admitted to hospital than most other people in the UK who also have COPD.
More males are admitted than females.
Lorcan McGarvey, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at QUB, said it is great that people from here will get the chance to take part in this “landmark” study.
“As doctors we spend most of our time treating patients with COPD where the condition is already well established and causing lots of symptoms,” he said.
“Ideally, we would like to know more about COPD at the very early stages and how to identify those most at risk of developing severe disease.
“I believe this research will help us do just that and I am delighted that Queen’s University are playing such an important role.”