UT Southwestern looks at promising new medication that reduces the severity and frequency of asthma attacks

UT Southwestern Medical Center is one of a handful of top research institutions evaluating a promising new medication researchers hope can reduce the severity and frequency of asthma attacks in inner-city children, a population known to have a high prevalence of severe asthma.

"Children living in inner cities are exposed to higher allergen levels and tend to have more severe asthma than children living elsewhere," said Dr. Rebecca Gruchalla, chief of allergy at UT Southwestern. "We want to see whether this new treatment can help children with allergic asthma, for which the environmental factors are more difficult to control."

Indoor allergens commonly found in inner cities, such as dust mites, cockroaches, molds and animal dander, are significant allergens that may contribute to the severity of a child's asthma. UT Southwestern, along with 10 other sites around the country, is participating in a National Institutes of Health-supported evaluation of anti-IgE therapy for children. This therapy is already being used successfully in adults and adolescents who have asthma.

"IgE antibodies are the fuel in the immune system that perpetuates the asthmatic reaction," said Dr. Gruchalla, serves as principal investigator at the Dallas site. Some people are more genetically prone to develop IgE antibodies, which are molecules produced by white blood cells in response to exposure to allergens. IgE antibodies can make asthma worse in those people who are sensitive to particular allergens.

The Inner City Anti-IgE Therapy for Asthma (ICATA) study involves about 50 children at each site. It will evaluate Xolair (omalizumab), a drug that binds to and inactivates IgE antibodies.

"Xolair 'sops up' the IgE that's there, decreases the receptors for IgE, and regulates many things that pertain to allergy and the asthmatic response," Dr. Gruchalla said.

The two-year Dallas portion of the study targets children 6 to 20 years old who reside within the Dallas Independent School District. Individuals interested in participating should call 214-648-5436 for additional requirements and information.

Participating children will receive an injection every two or four weeks and medical care for their asthma for nearly two years. Laboratory analyses of biological and environmental samples from the home also will occur during the same time period.

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