Determining the long-term respiratory impacts of bushfire smoke is the focus of a new study being carried out by the University of Technology Sydney and the Centenary Institute.
Professor Phil Hansbro, deputy director at the Centenary Institute as well director of the Centenary UTS Centre for Inflammation, will lead the project, which is funded by the Medical Research Future Fund's Bushfire Impact Research grants program.
The aim is to gain a better understanding of "the physiological impacts of prolonged bushfire smoke exposure, to improve health outcomes for Australians".
The professor will be joined by a team of specialist respiratory disease researchers and clinicians on the project.
"The true extent of bushfire smoke on people is still largely unknown," said Professor Hansbro.
"We just don't know the full impact on people resulting from prolonged smoke inhalation or if short term effects resolve after the exposure ends. There is a real knowledge gap as to what level of smoke exposure is likely okay and what level may lead to adverse health effects, particularly for the more vulnerable in our society."
The team will explore short and prolonged physiological effects of bushfire smoke using mouse models and primary human cells and tissues.
Of note will be how bushfire smoke affects the airways, lungs and other organs and what the long-term consequences of this exposure could be.
Differentiating between the potential smoke impact on healthy individuals and those with common pre-existing respiratory disease such as asthma, emphysema and lung cancer will also be considered.
"Ideally from our study, we'll be able to help define safe levels of bushfire smoke exposure across all of these population groups," said Professor Hansbro.
It is hoped the findings will lead to new prevention strategies and treatment measures.
"Bushfires and smoke are a constant feature of the Australian environment and will continue to impact many of us, whether in the bush, towns or larger cities," said Professor Hansbro.
"Our research will lead to improved knowledge in this critical area ultimately leading to improved health and wellbeing outcomes for many Australians."