Researchers to investigate links between asthma and genes

Professor Bill Cookson and Dr Miriam Moffatt, formerly at the University of Oxford, have joined Imperial's National Heart and Lung Institute to further develop the genetic research there, particularly focusing on how genes influence the development of asthma.

Professor Cookson trained in medicine at the University of Western Australia, before moving to Oxford in 1984. Dr Moffatt joined his group in 1989, initially as a doctoral student. Together they built a team that established the importance of how genes affect asthma, through a combination of positional cloning and candidate gene studies. Many of these genes are expressed on the cells lining the airways of the lung, indicating that "front line" defences against infection are more important than allergies in causing disease susceptibility. The group have also shown the combination of eczema and asthma is a different and more severe disease than asthma alone, and made significant advances in finding the genes causing infantile eczema.

Professor Cookson and Dr Moffatt were awarded over £2.5 million from the Wellcome Trust in 2005 to look at the genetics of childhood asthma and atopic dermatitis. Professor Cookson is also due to receive funding from the European Union for a major international project looking at the combination of genetic and environmental factors in causing asthma.

Professor Bill Cookson said: "Imperial has a global reputation for research into asthma and airway diseases, including the development of treatment strategies which have made a huge difference to the millions of asthma sufferers around the world. Through the identification of the genetic causes of asthma, we hope to better understand the basic mechanisms of asthma, developing newer, more effective treatments."

Professor Stephen Smith, Principal of the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College London, said: "To attract a scientist and physician of Bill's standing is a major coup for Imperial. His work has changed the understanding of asthma, leading to some exciting new possibilities for the prevention and treatment of this disease. We hope that the synergy between Bill and Miriam's work and the existing expertise in Imperial will maintain Imperial's world leading position in the study of asthma and related diseases."

Professor Cookson and Dr Moffatt will be joined by Youming Zhang, Saffron Willis-Owen, Jill Cantelmo, Kenny Wong, and Nilesh Morar, also from the University of Oxford.

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