Asthma in the News

Study: Alameda County Among Most Asthma-Prone in State
Catherine Ho, Daily Californian May 7, 2004

Study: Alameda County Among Most Asthma-Prone in State
Catherine Ho, Daily Californian May 7, 2004

Alameda County is one of the most asthma-prone counties in the state, with a high concentration of asthma hospitalizations centered around Oakland and Berkeley, according to a report released Tuesday by the Oakland Berkeley Asthma Coalition.

Alameda County has the second highest rate of asthma hospitalizations in the state, with 4 times as many Oakland children hospitalized each year for asthma attacks than the state average. In Berkeley, the rate is 2.5 times the average.

The greatest increases in the number of hospitalization cases were seen in East and West Oakland, South Berkeley, Alameda and Piedmont. Although asthma hospitalizations had declined in Alameda County over a five-year period, rates skyrocketed in some neighborhoods in East and West Oakland.

Asthma is a chronic lung condition that results in an attack when swelling airways fill with mucus to prevent oxygen from reaching the lungs. Allergies from dust mites and pet dander can worsen attacks and warrant hospitalization.

"I had allergies and asthma before I came to Berkeley," said ASUC Senator and senior Adnan Iqbal. "But my asthma has gotten worse since I've been here. The air is really dry out here."

The study shows that age, race and location are all factors determining the likelihood that an individual will suffer from asthma.

"The most striking finding was that the burden of asthma is not spread equally among the population," said Paul Cummings, head of the Oakland Berkeley Asthma Coalition, a group of health care providers, nonprofit community organizations and government agencies.

Young children are more susceptible to severe attacks than the population at large-more than half of Oakland and Berkeley residents hospitalized for asthma were under the age of 15.
The report indicates a racial disparity among asthma sufferers as well, with hospitalization rates for blacks 4 times higher than those of the general population.

But race could be correlated to location, which also proved a factor in the prevalence of asthma hospitalizations. Neighborhoods with many black residents, such as South and West Berkeley, are more exposed to diesel truck traffic and pollution from freeways I-80 and I-880.

An estimated 10,000 diesel trucks that take shortcuts through Oakland neighborhoods cause pollutants that contribute to asthma, Cummings said.

Cummings said that he hopes the report will encourage people in the community to work together and express their concern to local policymakers.

Researchers Link Asthma Risk to DNA
Anne Benjaminson, Daily Californian, October 5, 1999

UC Berkeley researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory announced Friday they have discovered that certain human genes are linked to increased levels of asthma.
Dr. Edward Rubin, a UC Berkeley researcher, and Derek Symula, a post-doctoral fellow, reported in the science journal Nature Genetics that Rubin's group isolated two genes that likely increase an individual's odds of contracting asthma.

The team said they used a new technique to identify the genes. Instead of using the "brute-force method" that involves comparing the gene by gene make-up of asthmatic DNA to non-asthmatic DNA, the researchers examined sets of genes that are associated with allergic activity.

"We started with a region of chromosome-5, which we knew had something to do with asthma," Symula said.
The group chose which genes to test for association with asthma and then inserted the genetic data from humans into mouse DNA. These mice then expressed the gene, providing researchers with information about the way the genes affect asthma, according to Symula.

"We spent some time trying to decide which genes in there were important, and then we asked the mice which pieces of the DNA were important," he said.

The researchers tested the mice for several attributes of asthma, including lung inflammation and the concentration of Immunoglobulin E, a type of antibody that is involved in allergic attacks, Symula said.
In addition, chemicals that control the immune system's activity have different effects on production levels of the antibody. Varying amounts of the chemicals, and thus of the immunoglobulin, can make humans more or less susceptible to asthma, Symula said.

Although a person's genetic makeup could raise their susceptibility to asthma, Symula said environmental factors can also play a role in the development of the disease.

"The current paradigm is that there is both a genetic and environmental component to every disease," Symula said. "If you are predisposed to allergic asthma and live in a perfectly clean environment, you're going to be fine."

Pollutants such as dust mite antigens, which include anything that the immune system can react to, can contribute to the disease, especially in more industrialized countries with better insulation, which traps these pollutants indoors, he added.

Although the discovery is a step toward controlling asthma, Symula said he is reluctant to call it a cure.
"I don't like to think in terms of a cure - I like to think in terms of treatments and think about therapies," Symula said.

While the information about the genetic basis of asthma is important, Symula said that the success of the new technique to identify genes is also significant.

"We're excited about the general approach, which we hope can be applied to other complex disorders such as hypertension and obesity," he said.

The research was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health.
Rubin, the head of the project, is also the leader of the functional genomics program at the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute. He has previously conducted similar research on sickle cell disease and arteriosclerosis.

Asthma Caused By Bad Air
L A Wood, Daily Californian, October 7, 1999

Here comes another Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientific breakthrough ("Researchers Link Asthma Risk to DNA," Oct. 5) so, snip snip the human genome and reduce the incidence of asthma.
Really? Next LBNL's research will suggest we look for a tree that can live in smog.

Enough already! This story makes good lab news copy, but researchers need to come outside and smell the air. It's not our gene pool which puts us at risk for asthma as much as is it air pollution and our status, i.e. where we live and work, and of course, how young we are.

It's time to stop ignoring these undeniable factors associated with the chronic exposure to air pollution. It's easy to overstate the incidence of genetically-disposed risk to asthma, when in fact, the continual exposure to air pollution obviously creates a much larger risk.

A recently compiled, four county study (including Alameda County) of asthma-related hospitalizations concluded that "children less than fifteen, African Americans, and those living in urban areas have high rates of hospitalization." Genetic disposition is but a small part of this picture.

Who is surprised? This regional asthma profile reflects a national trend, which has grown at an alarming rate over the last two decades. As for science, it continues to look under the wrong rock for the answer. This common research approach is seen in the science of breast cancer, too.

Researchers spend millions developing miracle drugs to manage this cancer, instead of examining its direct prevention. That's because no pill will ever clean up the environment. Perhaps it's time for us taxpayers to get smart by funding a little less research while demanding higher air quality standards that make it safe enough to breathe.

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