New Asthma Center

A new asthma research center is now at home at Baylor College of Medicine, thanks to a grant from the National Institutes of Health. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, one of the first projects at the center is vacuuming.

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Dust mites may be a high contributing factor in the onset and frequency of asthma attacks. Dr. Tony Eissa, director of the Asthma and Allergic Disease Cooperative Research Center, says he's looking for the root cause of asthma by collecting dust from the homes of patients.

"We'll have a vacuum cleaner and we'll go and vacuum these houses and vacuum especially the bedrooms and also we'll vacuum some of the linens and stuff like that. We'll take that -- we'll take that dust back to the laboratories."

Back at the lab, Eissa will look for these small dust mite organisms and study them at the molecular level.

"And some of the molecular components of these organisms are proteazas, which are basically some enzymes that break down proteins. And we found, through using laboratory experiments and also in mice that are modeled after the asthma in humans, that these proteazas or these enzymes are important in developing asthma."

These dust mite enzymes aren't the only cause of asthma. Air pollution, respiratory illnesses even mold and pollen can all contribute to the disease. But Eissa wants to figure out if children who are raised in homes where these enzymes are prevalent are more likely to develop asthma. If he can prove this tiny enzyme causes asthma, then scientists are one step closer to preventing the disease.

"It's the same thing when you have a problem with your car, when you car stops on the highway and you take it to the mechanic, you can't fix it until you know which piece is broken. So once we can understand which specific enzyme is causing asthma, or specific protein is causing asthma, we can in the lab figure out something that will fix that."

The grant to Baylor College of Medicine provides $7 million to fund five years of research. The NIH has eleven asthma research centers across the country working on different aspects of the disease. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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