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Childhood asthma research receives $2 million to investigate genetic and environmental factors

May 02, 2016
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Research into the impact of a child’s upbringing and social and physical environments on the development of asthma will receive $2 million to tackle the condition that affects as many as one in three Canadians.

The research is a collaboration between UBC, BC Children’s Hospital, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority, and the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) Study, which has collected a wide range of health, lifestyle and environmental exposure information from more than 3,500 mothers and children from pregnancy to age five. Funding for the research comes from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and Genome British Columbia (Genome BC).

“Childhood asthma is increasing in Canada and around the world, but we’re still learning what causes asthma and why it develops in some children and not others,” said Dr. Stuart Turvey, the principal investigator of the project. Turvey is also a professor in UBC’s Faculty of Medicine, and a pediatric immunologist, senior clinician scientist and director of clinical research at BC Children’s Hospital. “This research will help us learn about the changes that we can make to a child’s environment to reduce their susceptibility to the disease.”  

With this funding, Turvey and his colleagues will use data and samples from the CHILD Study to examine how a child’s environment interacts with the genome, a science known as epigenetics, to affect the development of asthma. The environmental factors that the researchers will examine include traffic-related air pollution and green space in cities, gut bacteria, breastfeeding, and community and family social environments. 

This research will build on recent findings out of UBC and at BC Children’s Hospital that found babies with four strains of bacteria in their gut are less likely to develop asthma. Other UBC research has also found that exposure to air pollution during pregnancy and to antibiotics early in life are linked to a child’s asthma risk.

The project was part of $16 million in CIHR funding announced today for research to combat chronic health conditions across Canada. UBC researchers are also involved in projects to combat obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and metabolic conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and others.

Quotes:

Carl Roy, president and CEO, Provincial Health Services Authority

“Asthma is a life-threatening condition that affects thousands of children and families in British Columbia. By furthering our understanding of what causes asthma and how to prevent it, this important research has the potential to accelerate the development of treatments and preventative measures.”

Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa, vice president, sectors and chief scientific officer for Genome BC

“Asthma is a significant health issue and we’re pleased to support UBC and Dr. Turvey’s research effort to improve the impacts of this disease. Ongoing investment into genomic technology is something we all benefit from as precision medicine advances towards solutions with unparalleled efficiency and precision.”

John Hepburn, UBC vice-president, research and international

“The funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Genome BC will help UBC researchers identify measures to prevent asthma and other chronic diseases. We appreciate the support from the governments of Canada and B.C. to pursue health research.”

BC Children’s Hospital, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority, provides expert care for the province’s most seriously ill or injured children, including newborns and adolescents. It is an academic health centre affiliated with the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, and the Child & Family Research Institute. Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children is the provincial facility that offers specialized child development and rehabilitation services to children and youth. For more information, visit www.bcchildrens.ca.

The CHILD Study
The CHILD Study is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Allergy, Genes and Environment Network (AllerGen NCE Inc.). Established in 2004, AllerGen is a national research network dedicated to improving the quality of life of people suffering from allergic and related immune diseases. Visit allergen-nce.ca for more information. 

Genome British Columbia:
Genome British Columbia leads genomics innovation on Canada’s West Coast and facilitates the integration of genomics into society. A recognized catalyst for government and industry, Genome BC invests in research, entrepreneurship and commercialization in life sciences to address challenges in key sectors such as health, forestry, fisheries, aquaculture, agri-food, energy, mining and environment. Genome BC partners with many national and international public and private funding organizations to drive BC’s bioeconomy. In addition to research, entrepreneurship and commercialization programs, Genome BC is committed to fostering an understanding and appreciation of the life sciences among teachers, students and the general public www.genomebc.ca.

Read more: Government of Canada combats chronic health conditions