UNC researchers to lead $61-million national asthma treatment project

The five-year, NIH-funded research study aims to create better, more personalized asthma treatments for the millions of people who suffer from the lung condition.

A person struggles, then panics, gasping for air but unable to get any into the lungs – as if trying to breathe air underwater or as if an elephant was sitting on their chest. These are the most common analogies cited for what a severe asthma attack feels like.

A new $61-million study by led by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will try to identify more effective treatments for such attacks and will do so by combining two important tools – precision medicine and “big data” analyses. The five-year study is being led by Anastasia Ivanova, PhD, associate professor of biostatistics at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Co-principal investigators include David Couper, PhD, clinical professor of biostatistics at UNC Gillings, and David B. Peden, MD, director of the Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma and Lung Biology and the Harry S. Andrews Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics at the UNC School of Medicine. Wanda O’Neal, PhD, associate professor of medicine at the UNC School of Medicine and member of the UNC Marsico Lung Institute, is also a key investigator.

The study, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), will include ten medical centers across the United States approved by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct the trials.

Severe asthma affects nearly 10 percent of people worldwide, and despite currently available treatments, the condition remains poorly controlled for many patients. The NHLBI study and clinical trials will support a personalized medicine approach to identify new therapies for severe asthma, tailored to an individual’s disease and treatment history.

 “People with severe asthma have trouble breathing almost all of the time and experience frequent, debilitating attacks,” Ivanova said. “It’s not only frightening; it can be deadly.”

Ivanova noted that her son has a mild form of asthma.

“I can only imagine what patients with severe asthma go through on a daily basis,” she said.

Ivanova and her colleagues hope to reduce these episodes with an innovative new, large-scale study that will select patients and their treatments based on biomarkers.

“In addition to using specific biomarkers to pair patients with specific treatments aimed at those biomarkers, our study will allow changes to therapies as new data is gathered,” Ivanova said. “So, if a patient is not doing well on his or her current therapy, it will be possible for the patient to switch therapies in the course of the trial.”

There also will be extensive data collection during the clinical trials to help further refine treatments, not only for the study participants, but also for others with similar or identical biomarkers. 

For more information, contact UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health director of communications David Pesci: 919-962-2600, dpesci@unc.edu

Share This: