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January 25, 2008  

Center Established to Study Asthma in Baltimore

Research to Examine How Pollution and Allergens Impact Asthmatic Children

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has received a five-year, $12 million dollar grant to fund the Center for Childhood Asthma in the Urban Environment. The center, led by Patrick Breysse and Gregory Diette, will examine how exposure to indoor and outdoor pollution and allergens may impact asthmatic children in Baltimore. The center is one of three new research centers of the DISCOVER (Disease Investigation Through Specialized Clinically-Oriented Ventures in Environmental Research) initiative funded by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health. The DISCOVER centers are expected to bridge the gap between basic research and clinical treatment of diseases caused by environmental factors.

The Center for Childhood Asthma in the Urban Environment is a multidisciplinary group of researchers representing the basic science and applied environmental science, and includes practitioners in pulmonology, pediatric immunology, toxicology, environmental engineering, epidemiology and biostatistics. The Center’s mission is to understand how exposures to indoor airborne particulate matter and mouse allergens result in airway inflammation and altered airway respiratory function and morbidity in children living in urban Baltimore.

“Asthma is the most common chronic disease in children. One in five school-aged children in Baltimore city suffers from asthma,” said Patrick N. Breysse, PhD, director of the Center and professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Understanding the impact of indoor pollution on asthma morbidity is necessary because children spend the majority of their time indoors. However, studying the indoor environment is complex. This environment includes allergens and particulate matter generated from cooking and smoking, as well as particulate matter penetrating from outdoors.” The Center is focusing on indoor particulate matter and mouse allergen because previous studies from the Center investigators have highlighted the importance of these exposures particularly for young children in Baltimore. 

The Center’s research will cover four major projects that will include both community-based and basic science studies.

Project 1—Domestic Indoor Particulate Matter and Childhood Asthma Morbidity
The study will examine the role of the indoor environment on childhood asthmatics and will focus on the role of mouse allergen and allergic sensitivity. The study will be headed by Gregory Diette, MD, MHS, co-director of the Center and associate professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Project 2—Oxidative Stress/Inflammation During Particulate Matter Nasal Challenge
A controlled trial will investigate the potential for particulate matter and allergens to produce airway inflammation, a hallmark of asthma. The study will be led by Elizabeth Matsui, assistant professor of Pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Project 3—Nrf2 Dependent Regulation of Oxidative Stress in Asthma
This investigation will focus on the potential biochemical mechanism by which pollutants produce asthmatic symptoms. The ultimate goal is to identify strategies to decrease asthma severity in the susceptible individuals in the population. The study will be led by Shyam Biswal, PhD, associate professor in Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Project 4—Mechanisms of Particulate Matter Induced Dendritic Cell Activation
This project will determine the molecular mechanism by which particulate matter exposure interacts with allergens to increase asthma. Specifically, this project will examine how urban airborne particulate matter collected from Baltimore city air may exacerbate an allergen-driven response in the lungs. The study will be led by Marsha Wills-Karp, PhD, professor and director of the Division of Immunobiology at Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Gregory Diette, MD, MHS, co-director of the Center and associate professor in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine said, “The economic burden of asthma is staggering. Inner-city children with asthma may be especially vulnerable to health effects of certain allergens and pollutants. Studies are urgently needed to determine the causes of the asthma epidemic. Through our research, we are excited about working to reduce asthma and helping asthmatic children to breathe better.”

Public Affairs media contact: Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or