26 June 2017

Study seeking insights into origins of asthma

Department of Health funding will help a Western Australian researcher investigate whether an individual’s likelihood of developing asthma might be determined while still in the womb.

Dr Kimberley Wang

Dr Kimberley Wang, a scientist at the Telethon Kids Institute, says it has been generally accepted that asthma is triggered after a person is born, following exposure to environmental allergens.

But she believes susceptibility could be determined much earlier and will use a New Independent Researcher Support (NIRIS) award to explore her belief that structural or functional abnormalities of the airway – which would be evident in-utero – play a key role in asthma susceptibility.

Dr Wang acknowledges that an individual’s reaction to allergens is a strong risk factor for developing asthma but points out that many exposed individuals never go on to develop the chronic respiratory disease.

“I hope to find out if an individual’s risk of developing asthma may be determined before they are born,” she says.

“We already know that restricted growth in the womb, which leads to low birthweight, is associated with higher rates of asthma in later life. I hope to find out the reasons for this.”

Part of Dr Wang’s project will involve examining the lung function and structure of mice of low birthweight.

Dr Wang is hopeful her study will provide new insights into the cause of asthma and ultimately lead to more effective treatments.

She is one of eight WA researchers to have been awarded funding in the latest round of the Department of Health-funded NIRIS program.

NIRIS awards help high-performing new researchers develop independent research careers by assisting with the costs of infrastructure associated with their individual projects.

Dr Wang’s NIRIS award will go towards the costs of a research assistant, laboratory consumables and computer software.

Western Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Gary Geelhoed, said Dr Wang was to be congratulated on her award. He said her project had the potential to improve treatments for a condition that affected about one in nine Australians.

Since the NIRIS program began in 2001, $1,335,000 has been awarded to 118 WA-based medical and health researchers.

The recipients for NIRIS 2017 are:

  • Associate Professor Christopher Blyth, Telethon Kids Institute
  • Dr Asha Bowen, Telethon Kids Institute
  • Dr Terry Boyle, School of Public Health, Curtin University
  • Dr Mark Boyes, School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, Curtin University
  • Dr Nicolas Hart, Exercise Medicine Research Institute, Edith Cowan University
  • Dr Carrington Shepherd, Telethon Kids Institute
  • Dr Georgina Trapp, Telethon Kids Institute
  • Dr Kimberley Wang, Telethon Kids Institute.

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