UW-Madision: Largest grant ever awarded to UW School of Medecine and Public Health will continue inner-city asthma research

Contact: Gian Galassi
Phone: (608) 263-5561
Email: [email protected]

MADISON – The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) a seven-year, $70 million grant for its continuing work on the Inner-City Asthma Consortium (ICAC) – a nationwide clinical research network to evaluate and develop promising new immune-based treatments. The goal of the work is to reduce the severity of asthma in inner-city children, and to lead research efforts into preventing this disease.

The grant is the largest ever received by the UW SMPH, bringing the total amount of NIH funding for ICAC since 2002 to just over $190 million.

“Allergic sensitization to environmental factors is a major contributor to asthma in all children, but this factor is especially important for those living in inner cities of the United States,” says William Busse, professor of medicine at the UW and principal investigator of the ICAC project. “Our ongoing efforts to more effectively treat those affected by the urban asthma epidemic are critical to the well-being and future quality of life for millions of children who suffer with this disease, and promise to help others around the globe as well. This level of investment by the NIH not only underscores the enormity of the public health challenge that asthma presents in the inner city, but is also testimony to what our consortium has accomplished so far and plans to do in the years ahead.”

According to the most recent estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 25 million people nationwide diagnosed with asthma, 7 million of whom are children. Since 2001, asthma in the United States has increased 2.9 percent each year and now costs the country approximately $56 billion annually, including costs for medical expenses, loss of work and school, and premature death.

“The only thing more staggering than the financial impacts of asthma are the health disparities that exist with this disease,” said Busse. “The truth is that you are more likely to suffer from asthma in this country if you are part of a minority, live in the inner city, have high social stress and are socioeconomically disadvantaged. Our research is crucial to reversing this health disparity and helping children, no matter where they live, manage the often-debilitating reality of asthma.”

Since its inception in 2002, ICAC has made significant strides toward combatting the asthma epidemic by identifying several risk factors for the disease and developing effective clinical strategies for asthma management. Ongoing ICAC studies – and those that will begin as a result of this latest funding – are expected to provide new information on different types of asthma in this inner-city population of children; more effective strategies for treatment; data on the safety and efficacy of novel approaches to treatment of asthma attacks, which commonly occur when children return to school; and preliminary information on treatments for asthma triggered by cockroach and mouse allergens – two of the most prevalent allergens in the inner city.

ICAC researchers will also continue their work on the Urban Environment and Childhood Asthma (URECA) Study, which enrolled approximately 500 inner-city children at birth, starting in 2005. Findings from this study alone have already helped to identify specific infectious, genetic and immunologic factors that place inner-city children at risk for asthma. By the end of this grant, URECA participants will range in age from 14 to 16 years of age and will have provided researchers with detailed information about the immunologic basis of childhood asthma and adolescent onset of asthma, as well as the remission of asthma during the same years.

“The ICAC project is perfectly aligned with our transformation into a school of medicine and public health because it applies clinical and biomedical expertise to a pressing public health challenge, with an emphasis on tackling health disparities,” said Robert N. Golden, dean of the SMPH. “We are honored to serve as the academic home for this important work. We look forward to collaborating with our partners around the country to improve the lives of the children and families living with this disease, and to prevent it from affecting others in the future.”

In addition to Busse, other UW-Madison researchers in ICAC include Dr. James Gern, professor of pediatrics and medicine, and Christine Sorkness, professor in the division of allergy and immunology and the UW School of Pharmacy. Together, they serve as co-directors of ICAC and provide overall scientific direction and management services for the consortium. Staff in the UW departments of medicine and pediatrics provide pulmonary function testing, laboratory sample processing and business related services. UW also serves as a basic science laboratory for the consortium.

The following institutions serve as clinical sites for the project: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas; Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York City; National Jewish Health, Denver; Boston University School of Medicine; Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago; Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center; George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, St. Louis; Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore; Children’s Research Institute, Washington, D.C.; and Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. ICAC’s other basic research laboratories are located at the University of California, San Francisco; La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology, San Diego; and Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason, Seattle.