Asthma Outreach & Research

Unexpected Outcomes Inspire New Avenues of Research


Asthma disproportionately afflicts inner city children who suffer more severe disease, more frequent asthma attacks and more hospitalizations. In March 2011 National Jewish Health pediatrician Andy Liu, MD, joined colleagues around the nation to report an effective therapy with some unexpected benefits.

Previous research had shown that if researchers manage these children according to best practices, they could significantly reduce symptoms, exacerbations, and hospitalizations.

However, many continued to suffer uncontrolled asthma that seemed like it would never get better. In the current study, researchers found that adding omalizumab, a medication that blocks the allergic response, could further reduce days with symptoms by 25 percent, asthma attacks by 30 percent, and hospitalizations by 75 percent. “Overall our interventions resulted in a 90 percent decrease in hospitalizations,” said Dr. Liu. “I think that is an important outcome. It makes the disease safer and helps these children who need it the most.”

Surprisingly, the researchers also found that omalizumab almost completely eliminated the fall seasonal peak in asthma attacks, which is associated with the return to school and increased respiratory infections. “Why would an anti-allergy medication reduce asthma attacks caused by respiratory viruses?” asked Dr. Liu. “We don’t know, but the finding has inspired a new avenue of research, which we are actively pursuing.”

Poorly Controlled Asthma is Costly

Poorly controlled asthma more than doubles healthcare costsassociated with the disease and threatens educational achievement through adramatic increase in school absence, according to researchers at NationalJewish Health. The research team reported in the August 2011 issue of The Archives of Allergy, Asthma &Immunology that children with “very poorly controlled” asthma missed anaverage of 18 days of school each year, compared to 2 or less for other asthmapatients. Read more.

Text Messages Help Adolescents With Asthma

Adolescents are notorious for not taking their asthma medications regularly, which leads to worse symptoms and attacks. National Jewish Health researchers sent text messages with asthma education messages to 43 adolescents with asthma for 30 days.

Ninety-three percent of the adolescents, who received messages at frequencies ranging from one every other day to twice a day, believed the text messages helped them take better control of their asthma. Eighty-six percent liked receiving the messages and 71 percent wanted to continue receiving them. They also reported significantly higher adherence to medication regimens. Abstract.

Lung Microbiome Associated With Asthma Control

Patients with altered bacterial communities in their lower airways suffer poorer asthma control. Expansion of communities seen in normal controls or expansion of unique organisms not seen in control microbiomes were both associated with lower levels of dominant commensal organisms and less asthma control. Abstract.

How To Fix Our Public Health

Nurses travel to rural medical practices and teach the entire staff the latest care. Tools they leave behind include spirometers (which measure lung function and are crucial to asthma diagnosis) and peak flow meters (a self-test for patients). The asthma tool kit, delivered to rural doctors, has improved diagnosis and treatment and is projected to cut costly asthma hospitalizations by 33%. Read more.

Researchers Trying to Understand How Biofeedback Helps Asthma Patients

National Jewish Health researchers are delving into the biology of biofeedback to understand how it helps asthma patients and what role it could play in reducing medication use for the chronic lung disease. In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, they are evaluating two forms of biofeedback, based on controlling heart rate and specific brain waves, and assessing their impact on inflammation in the lungs and the ‘twitchiness” of asthma patients’ airways. Read more.