$8 million grant establishes program to uncover genetics of asthma

Durham, N.C. -- Duke University Medical Center researchers have set out to uncover the genetic basis of environmental asthma. By revealing how genes interact with such environmental factors as air pollutants, the five-year $8 million program promises to reveal multiple genetic risk factors that predispose patients to the chronic airway disease.

That knowledge might then be applied to develop and test new drugs targeted to particular forms of asthma, for example those associated with exposure to allergens or environmental irritants such as ozone, said David A. Schwartz, M.D., chief of pulmonary medicine at Duke and principal investigator of the new program.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health, will fund the research.

"The ultimate goal of the new program is to determine which genes make people susceptible to specific types of asthma," Schwartz said. "The program will use information about which environmental factors induce asthma symptoms in particular patients to identify the genes that can contribute to different forms of this very prevalent disease."

The new Duke program will use multiple approaches to uncover the underlying cellular and genetic mechanisms that contribute to environmental asthma. Using a technique called gene expression profiling, the researchers will screen the activity of thousands of genes to identify those involved when the airways of asthma patients become obstructed or inflamed. Learning how these genes differ among individuals might help explain why some people develop asthma while others remain unaffected.

A second component of the program, led by Duke pulmonary scientist W. Michael Foster, Ph.D., will probe the lung's response to ozone -- a common component of air pollution -- in patients with and without asthma. Jonathan Stamler, M.D., a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Duke, will lead an effort to learn how shift

Contact: Kendall Morgan
Duke University Medical Center

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