NIH statement on World Asthma Day, May 1, 2012

Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases;
Susan B. Shurin, MD, acting director, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute;
Linda S. Birnbaum, PhD, director, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences;
Alan E. Guttmacher, MD, director, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

On World Asthma Day 2012, we at the National Institutes of Health stand with the Global Initiative for Asthma to renew our dedication to improving the quality of life for the millions of people living with asthma.

Asthma affects more than 230 million people worldwide, including more than 25 million people in the United States. There is no way to prevent, or to cure, asthma. Existing treatments focus on preventing or controlling disease symptoms, such as wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing. Despite these efforts, each year more than half of children and one-third of adults with asthma in the United States miss school or work because of the disease, approximately 17 million people require medical attention because of an asthma episode, and more than 3,000 asthma-related deaths occur.

Four NIH institutes–the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID); the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI); the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS); and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)–support basic and clinical research to understand the causes of asthma and the factors that contribute to its progression. Although each institute has a different focus, we all work together to help develop effective prevention and treatment strategies for the disease.

In March 2012, NIH, together with the Merck Childhood Asthma Network Inc. and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, published a report that for the first time promotes standardization across asthma clinical studies. Asthma Outcomes in Clinical Research: Report of the Asthma Outcomes Workshop establishes common measures and data-collection methods to enable researchers to compare their results more efficiently. This standardization promises to enhance asthma clinical research and lead to improvements in the quality of asthma care.

In August 2011, NIH held a workshop, “The Early Life Origins of Asthma: Strategies for Primary Prevention.” Asthma typically begins early in childhood, and the goal of the workshop was to identify specific factors that may predict a person’s risk of developing asthma during the first 1,000 days of life. Such factors include environmental exposures, genetics and events that occur in pregnancy and early infancy. Workshop attendees concluded that understanding the early risk factors for asthma may provide an opportunity to prevent asthma before it begins.

NIH remains committed to working with individuals, families and health care professionals to reduce the worldwide burden of asthma. We commend our investigators who continue to make significant progress in asthma research, and we thank the people who have participated in NIH-sponsored asthma clinical studies as well as the nongovernmental organizations that provide support for those affected by this disease. We all share the hope that further research will uncover the causes of asthma so that the disease can one day be effectively prevented.

NIAID supports studies of the immune system’s role in the development of asthma and evaluates new approaches to treat and prevent the disease. NHLBI funds a broad asthma research portfolio–including studies on risk factors, mechanisms that influence disease severity, and identifying novel therapies–and the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program, which translates research into clinical practice to improve asthma control and quality of life. NIEHS supports research to understand how exposures to environmental agents trigger asthma, and how we can better prevent, diagnose and treat such exposures. NICHD conducts and supports research on all stages of human development, including research directed to those early life stages when chronic diseases such as asthma might be prevented.

For more information about NIH and its programs:

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
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National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

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