The Gas Safety Trust (GST) has announced that it is to provide funds to Newcastle University for a study into possible new ways to detect carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning which could be used when CO exposure is suspected at lower levels.

This research will focus on developing techniques that demonstrate the specific effects of CO on cells and tissues, by identifying how changes in the cells (biomarkers) can occur. These biomarkers will be required to show both the level of CO exposure and the toxic effects of CO, and need to be robust and long lasting for practical use by medical professionals.

Department of Health (DH) statistics state that every year in England and Wales, approximately 30 people die from CO poisoning, that 200 people are admitted to hospital, and around 4,000 people attend A&E, are treated and sent home. However, it is generally accepted that these figures underestimate the scale of the problem, due to the difficulties in diagnosis.

The fact that symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the symptoms of the common cold and flu provide challenges for medical professionals to diagnose and, as such, it is often overlooked. Furthermore, current methods to confirm CO poisoning in the body require specialist equipment that is frequently used long after the patient has stopped being exposed to CO, making it much more difficult to determine if a person has been exposed since CO can be rapidly eliminated from the body.

Chris Bielby, GST Chair, said: "Getting to the true number of deaths and injuries caused by CO is a key concern of the Gas Safety Trust and we are pleased to fund this research by Newcastle University. Research such as this can make it easier for health professionals to spot cases of CO poisoning and help inform government and industry about the scale of the issue."

Dr Christopher Morris, Senior Lecturer, Medical Toxicology Centre and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Protections Research Unit in Chemical Radiation Threats and Hazards at Newcastle University, said: "This work will provide us with the preliminary information on possible blood protein biomarkers which might indicate carbon monoxide poisoning and the stability of these protein markers when it is no longer present. The use of blood derived biomarkers would provide a basis for future clinical investigations into carbon monoxide poisoning."

The GST, set up in 2005, is the UK's leading gas safety research charity and has in recent years refocused its strategy on funding several strands of CO related research, to provide the underpinning empirical evidence that supports improved awareness and understanding of the effects of CO. The GST is generously funded by the gift aided profits of CORGI Services Limited.