Sept. 30, 1993
Vol. 13, No. 3

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    $1.7 million grant to establish asthma research center

    Four physician-scientists in the Department of Medicine have been awarded a $1.7 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to establish one of 12 Asthma and Allergic and Immunological Disease Cooperative Research Centers in the United States. The four-year grant will support three basic research projects and one clinical and educational research program on asthma.

    Although 10 million Americans suffer from asthma--about one in 30 adults and as many as one in 10 children--the cause of the disease remains unknown.

    "Although asthma is already so prevalent that it is classified as an epidemic, and it is increasingly common, we still don't have a good understanding of the disease or even an adequate definition," said Alan Leff, Professor in Medicine and principal investigator for the project.

    "We know that the airways of asthma patients are overly sensitive to several irritants that can trigger an attack, and we have good reason to suspect that one particular type of immune cell contributes to that response," Leff said. "Our goal is to determine how these immune cells are drawn to the airways, what role they play in airway inflammation and how this dangerous condition can be better prevented or alleviated by therapy."

    The basic research at the Medical Center will involve three interrelated projects on how inflammation of the airway leads to asthma. The central focus will be on a type of immune cell called an eosinophil. A blood cell, the eosinophil infiltrates the airways in patients with asthma and triggers release of substances that can cause inflammation. Understanding the role of eosinophils may provide clues to the cause of asthma and suggest new approaches for treatment.

    Project one, directed by Leff, will focus on the mechanisms that eosinophils use to cause the smooth muscle cells lining the airways to contract. Project two, directed by Julian Solway, Associate Professor in Medicine, will focus on substances secreted by eosinophils that could contribute to constriction of the airway. Project three, directed by Kimm Hamann, Research Associate in Medicine, will focus on the creation and life cycle of eosinophils.

    Eugene Geppert, Clinical Professor in Medicine, will direct the clinical and educational component of the grant. Geppert and his colleagues will develop strategies to bring state-of-the-art home asthma care to a population of medically indigent inner-city children with the disease. Hispanics in Chicago are more likely than whites to suffer from asthma and are seven times as likely to die from it. In fact, the death rate from asthma in Chicago is among the highest in the United States. This component involves modifying and testing an established self-management program for asthma sufferers for use with Hispanic inner-city children.