On World Asthma Day 2016, the National Institutes of Health reaffirms its commitment to support research to improve the lives of all people with asthma. NIH-funded research has advanced our understanding of asthma as a disease as well as the impact asthma has on the lives of those affected. We have made great strides in learning how to treat and prevent asthma, and we are committed to ensuring that scientific discoveries move quickly into clinical practice to provide the best possible care for all people with asthma.
Asthma is a chronic disease that intermittently inflames and narrows the airways. People with asthma may experience wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness and coughing when the airways narrow. Roughly 300 million people worldwide live with this condition, including approximately 24 million in the United States. In the United States, asthma is a major contributing factor to missed time from school and work, and is also a major cause of hospitalization and emergency department visits.
Three NIH institutes lead studies of asthma: the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI); the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS); and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Together, these institutes support research to understand the causes of asthma and develop ways to better manage this condition as well as on the increasingly important area of implementation, which translates scientific discoveries into clinical practice.
NHLBI-supported research on the development and testing of new asthma treatments and management strategies has shaped current practice recommendations, but these interventions are implemented inconsistently in children who are at high risk for poor asthma outcomes. To address the need to use proven interventions to help all children who are at high risk for poor asthma outcomes, NHLBI will soon launch the second part of the Asthma Empowerment Collaborations to Reduce Childhood Asthma Disparities program. The first part of the program is ongoing, with nine teams of investigators reaching out within their communities to understand the needs of everyone involved in the care of children with asthma. Later this year, applications will be accepted for the second part of the program to test interventions designed to meet the needs of their community. The program will require investigators to create systems to better coordinate care among health care providers, families, and the communities in which they live, extending from the child's home to the community. Investigators will be tasked with finding ways to widely distribute the most successful models of care and identifying partners to sustain the interventions locally.
NIEHS scientists are studying the complex relationship between the environment, the immune system, and asthma. Specifically, the scientists want to identify triggers of asthma attacks, what conditions may cause asthma, and the biological mechanisms involved. This strategy will inform future treatment and prevention efforts and has already produced some exciting results. In 2015, NIEHS researchers showed that easy-to-use allergen test kits and educational materials helped parents reduce asthma-triggering allergens in their homes. Other NIEHS projects are currently working with families to improve air quality at home through strategies such as air filters and greener cleaning products. Efforts to reduce outdoor air pollution during recent decades also are making a difference in homes and cities across the country. NIEHS-supported researchers at the University of Southern California recently showed that long-term improvements in regional air quality resulted in healthier lung growth and fewer symptoms of bronchitis-like symptoms in children.
NIAID's asthma research focuses on better understanding the role of the immune system in the disease and identifying new treatment and prevention strategies. The NIAID-sponsored Inner-City Asthma Consortium (ICAC) designs and implements immune-based asthma therapies and conducts studies to define and treat the disease in inner-city children. Past ICAC studies have shown that programs aimed at decreasing exposures to household allergens and at implementing guidelines-based asthma therapy decrease children's asthma symptoms and health care visits. Recently, ICAC investigators found that adding a short course of the drug omalizumab to ongoing guidelines-based care decreases seasonal asthma attacks and colds. In addition, NIAID-supported investigators in Boston are assessing whether a school-based program aimed at reducing children's exposure to mouse allergen, mold, and air pollutants will decrease the burden of asthma among urban schoolchildren.