College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Edinburgh bronchiolitis study wins BMJ award

A trial looking at bronchiolitis in infants has been awarded ‘research paper of the year’ at the 2016 BMJ Awards.

Dr Steve Cunningham and team

Dr Steve Cunningham and colleagues in Child Life and Health led the study and the paper was published in The Lancet in autumn 2015. 

The 'Research Paper of the Year' award recognises original UK research published in the past year with the greatest potential to significantly improve health and healthcare.

Low blood oxygen levels

Bronchiolitis is the most common cause of chest infections in young children and causes more hospital admissions each winter than asthma. One of the main reasons for being admitted to hospital is because blood oxygen levels are low.

Differing guidelines

In the USA doctors have recommended to start giving extra oxygen at lower blood oxygen levels than in the rest of the world. However this had never been studied to show that it is safe.

The aim of this study was to understand whether children with bronchiolitis recovered just as quickly if they had oxygen started at the USA recommended level or at the UK recommended level.


Dr Cunningham and team found that the USA recommended level for starting oxygen was safe, and unexpectedly in some cases children seemed to get better faster if lower blood oxygen levels were used.

The award winning study helps children get home sooner from hospital, families get back to normal sooner and is safe for children.

Worldwide impact

The work will change practice across the world for management of infants with bronchiolitis. However it also draws into question how we should manage older children and adults with acute respiratory infection. This is particularly the case in countries with scarce resource where possibly even lower oxygen saturation targets could be used without impacting significantly on morbidity and mortality.

With this study, defining oxygen saturation targets in infants with bronchiolitis can finally move from opinion based to evidence medicine.  The study is elegantly designed and brings robust evidence to treatment decision concerning one of the most common causes of hospital admission in infants.

BMJ judges

Related links

Read the paper in The Lancet

View the research profile of Dr Steve Cunningham

Visit the Child Life and Health website