By Rebecca Jones

Tracking Asthma

UNM participated in national study on asthma in African American children

UNM Health Sciences Center researchers recently participated in a new study that found that young African American children with asthma respond differently to commonly used asthma treatments compared with white children, and older children and adults.

It's one of many studies UNM participates in as part of belonging to various national pediatric clinical trial networks that conduct research to benefit children's health outcomes.

The study's findings, recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine, suggests that looking at results from one population and extrapolating the findings to African Americans or any other age group doesn't work, said Hengameh Raissy, PharmD, research professor and vice chair of research in the UNM Department of Pediatrics. Raissy was the principal investigator for UNM's part of the asthma study and is an associate director of the UNM Clinical & Translational Science Center.

The UNM site was one of 30 in 14 states to participate in the Best African American Response to Asthma Drugs study as part of AsthmaNet, a network funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The study followed 574 patients with asthma from health centers throughout the U.S.

"What the study tells us is you have to study and include different populations when it comes to managing a condition," Raissy explained. "In previous asthma studies, we didn't have many African American children. It tells us that pediatric patients can respond differently when compared to adults.

"It is also noted that different populations can respond to medication differently. Simply, we cannot extrapolate data from adult studies to the pediatric population. That was the lesson learned from this trial."

Half of the patients were between 5 and 11 years old and half were 12 years and older. The research was conducted to assess the best approach to asthma management in African Americans, who suffer much higher rates of serious asthma attacks, hospitalizations and asthma related deaths than whites, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Researchers examined how to adjust medications for children whose asthma wasn't improving with a traditional approach, Raissy said.

In addition to the asthma research, Raissy and Alberta Kong, MD, a professor in the UNM Department of Pediatrics, are co-directors for the NIH-funded IDeA State Pediatric Clinical Trial Network, which conducts studies for the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes program. It focuses on pre-, peri- and postnatal health, obesity, upper and lower airway conditions, neurodevelopment and positive health.

Participating in the network means the HSC collaborates with other universities to conduct clinical trials for children, particularly those living in rural parts of the state, Raissy said.

"We can reach out to rural areas to make sure they have access to and have representation in these crucial trials," she said.

The network, along with Duke Clinical Research Institute, also recently received NIH grant funding to participate in the HEAL Initiative, an acronym for Helping to End Addiction Long-Term. Raissy said the New Mexico site will study how to best manage neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome.