Forward toward the Future
New NIH-Funded Multi-Center Asthma Research Collaboration
Asthma – a chronic condition in which inflammation and bronchocontriction compromise the airways– is a huge problem in the United States, and the local community of Oakland in particular is considered an epicenter, with asthma numbers triple to quadruple those found nationally.
“The causes are multi-factorial, but they involve poor housing, mold because of moist conditions here in the bay area, and poverty,” explains Ms. Benson, who has been treating patients at the hospital and researching asthma for more than a decade.
“If we plot ER visits and hospitalizations related to asthma by zipcode, we find that many of them are coming from areas along the 880 highway corridor.”Not only is the pollution from highways a particular problem in Oakland, but the exponential growth of the port of Oakland has also been implicated, with large trucks driving through neighborhoods, and idling while waiting for barges to come in, for as long as 10 or 12 hours. As a result, the ER sees about 5 thousand patients a year with a diagnosis of asthma. While many patients recover from asthma episodes, 40 percent of the patients seen in the ER are hospitalized overnight for more intensive treatment.
“Right now we take out the big cannon – steroids – to treat almost everybody. Steroids are powerful drugs that will reduce inflammation but there are indications that we may be able to reduce inflammation with more focused treatments,” Ms. Benson points out. “I think what we really need to be looking at are other ways of decreasing inflammation on a more individualized basis.”
Each person has a different make up of inflammation. In some patients, an anti-histamine can reduce asthma symptoms, while others require a blend of different treatments. The future of asthma treatment may in fact lie in personalized medicine – being able to run a blood panel on an individual to identify different markers of different sources of inflammation, so that the treatment can be tailored exactly to the individual cause of inflammation.
“While we are probably a long way off from being able to provide individualized treatments, you have to start somewhere,” says Ms. Benson.
AsthmaNet provides a strong foundation, allowing Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland to participate in both high-powered data collection that will provide a better understanding of best practices and treatment response, as well as interventions geared toward establishing new and better treatment and prevention protocols for the future.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011 8:19 AM