James Gern, MD, Expands Asthma/Allergy Research Program

James Gern, MD, expanded his pediatric asthma and allergy research program last year.
James Gern, MD, expanded his pediatric
asthma and allergy research program last year.

2014 was an extraordinary research year for James Gern, MD.

He is a co-principal investigator (with William Busse, MD) on a new seven-year, $70 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)—the largest grant ever received by the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

The grant continues work on the Inner-City Asthma Consortium (ICAC), a nationwide clinical research network that leads research and seeks new immune-based treatments for asthma in inner-city children.

As part of that consortium, Dr. Gern also leads the Urban Environment and Childhood Asthma (URECA) birth cohort study. His team follows children growing up in neighborhoods in New York City, Boston, Baltimore and St. Louis—areas with high rates of poverty, stress, allergen exposure and pollution—to identify environmental factors that promote asthma.

In a paper published last year in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the team found that children who, at three years of age, had the greatest exposure to allergens and certain bacteria in household dust actually had the lowest risk for wheezing and early signs of allergy.

In addition, Dr. Gern leads the NIAID-funded University of Wisconsin Asthma and Allergic Diseases Clinical Research Center (AADCRC).

One aim of that project is to create the Wisconsin Infant Immune and Illness Surveillance Cohort, which will define how farm exposure in early childhood enhances immunity and reduces viral respiratory illness. Through collaborations with Matthew Keifer, MD, and colleagues at the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation—and Christine Seroogy, MD, at the UW Department of Pediatrics—the team has enrolled over 50 infants and their families to date.

Also as part of that program project, UW collaborators Ann Palmenberg, PhD, John Yin, PhD and Yury Bochkov, PhD, are working to identify the molecular virology of rhinovirus-C and how the virus spreads among single cells. For the first time, the research group has identified a candidate receptor for the virus.

Finally, Dr. Gern continues his work as a project principal investigator on the Childhood Origins of Asthma (COAST) birth cohort study (PI: Robert Lemanske, MD). Participants are now 14 to 16 years old, and recent findings show that respiratory viruses and bacteria work together to cause exacerbations of asthma.

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