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Professional focus: Professor John Gibson, Editor of the European Lung White Book

Last Update 06/04/2021

Professor Gibson is Editor of the European Lung White Book and recently attended the launch of the Small White Book in Brussels this month. In this interview he tells us how he became involved in the respiratory field and what his main aims were for the White Book.


Professor Gibson is Editor of the European Lung White Book and recently attended the launch of the Small White Book in Brussels this month. In this interview he tells us how he became involved in the respiratory field and what his main aims were for the White Book.  

Can you tell us about your area of work?

I have now retired but I spent my career as a specialist in respiratory medicine at Freeman Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne and as a Professor at Newcastle University. I’ve always covered a broad range of diseases but latterly I specialised in sleep apnoea. My job also included supervising a large lung function laboratory.

How did you become involved in this field of work?

I didn’t always aim to specialise in respiratory medicine but, as an undergraduate I was lucky to do a BSc degree in Physiology. Although my first publication was on gastric emptying, the BSc course included a substantial amount of respiratory physiology, including a short time at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough where we learned about the challenges faced by people in the airline industry. Early in my clinical career I worked as a junior doctor at the Hammersmith Hospital, where I was lucky to work with Neil Pride and Charles Fletcher – both inspirational respiratory doctors. I then pursued a career in the specialty with a year at McMaster University in Canada, where my interest was further stimulated by working with Norman Jones and Moran Campbell. I’ve worked in the field of lung health in Newcastle since 1978; although I retired from clinical work in 2009, I’m still active in teaching and supervising research.  

What were your main aims as chief editor of the European Lung White Book? 

The main aims of the White Book are educational – to help patients, the public, policymakers and the media understand more about the broad nature of respiratory medicine. Unlike some specialities, it covers a very wide range of diseases, with 10 or more major disease categories, as well as numerous less common conditions. Our aim was to produce a valuable resource for anyone wishing to influence policymakers for the benefit of lung health or for those looking for information on a particular lung disease or risk factor connected to that disease. 

What changes do you hope to see in the future regarding lung health policy? 

I hope to see more reliable and comprehensive data on respiratory diseases, collected from all countries in Europe. We know that in some cases, the information contained in the White Book is an underestimate of the true situation, as there is a lack of data coming from some countries. More accurate data would give a much fuller picture of the health and socioeconomic burden of respiratory disease. 

The proportion of biomedical research funding devoted to respiratory diseases remains disproportionately low in relation to their impact on the population of Europe, so I hope that more research will be carried out across Europe on all aspects of these conditions. Research is urgently needed to tackle both acute diseases, such as respiratory infections, and long-term diseases, such as COPD, so I hope that the EU and member states will boost the funding needed to carry out these studies. 

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I’ve always enjoyed direct patient contact and seeing the benefit that lung health research has on patients first hand. Additionally I enjoy research and teaching, particularly working with students who are new to the field and still have an open-minded approach. It’s a pleasure to see these pupils broaden their understanding and go from a position of inexperience to becoming knowledgeable respiratory professionals. One advantage of being retired is the ability to say “no” to less attractive aspects of clinical and academic work, such as involvement in the bureaucracy!

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

We were really pleased with the launch of the White Book in Brussels and we would encourage patients, carers and members of the public to also take a look at the information on the ELF website and the full White Book site to understand more about the societal and economic burden of respiratory diseases.  By working together, we can have a positive influence on lung health in Europe.

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