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University of Arizona Researchers Embark on Asthma-Related Precision Medicine Initiative

January 24, 2018
by Rajiv Leventhal
| Reprints

University of Arizona researchers are launching an international consortium with the goal to stop asthma in childhood and continue work toward an overall cure for the disease.

The researchers will specifically set out to determine if better regulation of a protein found in lung cells might impact persistence of asthma from childhood to adulthood, working toward personalized therapies for people with adult chronic asthma.

Stefano Guerra, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the University of Arizona Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, recently received a $3.6 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to study the protein CC16, a biomarker of injury to epithelial cells that line the lungs and are believed to be a protective mediator in the airway inflammatory process. The protein is produced mainly by “club cells,” also known as “bronchiolar exocrine cells,” in the outer airways of the lungs, but can be measured in blood circulation, as the researchers explained in an announcement.

“The project establishes an international consortium among some of the world’s leading asthma research groups that provide unique data on thousands of participants followed from birth well into their adult life,” Dr. Guerra said in a press release.

These groups include the Tucson Children’s Respiratory Study, launched in 1980 by the Arizona Respiratory Center (now the UA Health Sciences Asthma and Airway Disease Research Center), Sweden’s BAMSE (the Swedish abbreviation for Children, Allergy, Milieu, Stockholm, Epidemiology) and the United Kingdom’s Manchester Asthma and Allergy Study (MAAS). Each involve longitudinal research with observation of patients over decades.

"This study builds upon the already outstanding work on asthma-related research at the University of Arizona to move forward on treatments for a disease that is affecting the quality of so many lives, especially our children," said UA President Robert C. Robbins. "Personalized medicine is the future of healthcare, and the UA is recognized as a leader in this emerging and vitally important area. I am excited to learn what Dr. Guerra and his colleagues find."

Guerra noted that ultimately, the team’s objective is to establish the value of CC16 as a protective factor from persistence of asthma (into adulthood) and evaluate its possible use in identifying which patients are at high risk and novel therapeutic interventions to help them.

If these studies help determine CC16 deficits’ role in persistent asthma, the next step would be to evaluate CC16 augmentation as a therapeutic intervention in this disease, by either administering the human recombinant CC16 protein (which already is being tested in airway diseases) or molecules that increase a body’s internal production of CC16, according to the researchers.

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