The Gern Research Group is conducting several NIH-funded translational research studies to define the role of viral infections and other environmental factors in the initiation and disease activity of asthma, and to identify interactions between host, viral and environmental factors (e.g. bacteria) that determine the severity of respiratory illnesses.
First, Dr. Gern is the Principal Investigator for the University of Wisconsin Asthma and Allergic Diseases Clinical Research Center (AADCRC). This is a collaborative program involving investigators in the Allergy/Immunology and Rheumatology Divisions (James Gern, Christine Seroogy, Yury Bochkov) and Dr. Ann Palmenberg (Institute of Molecular Virology) at the University of Wisconsin. There are two interrelated projects with the following goals: 1) To determine how environmental exposures in farm and non-farm environments promote immune development and reduce the risk of viral respiratory illnesses, allergic diseases and asthma in early childhood, and 2) To identify molecular interactions between rhinovirus-C (a virus closely linked to wheezing and asthma) and its cellular receptor on host airway epithelial cells.
In addition, Dr. Gern is the Co-PI with Dr. William Busse (Department of Medicine) of the Inner City Asthma Consortium, and leads the Urban Environment and Childhood Asthma (URECA) birth cohort study within ICAC. The goal of this study is to identify lifestyle and environmental factors (including viral infections) unique to the urban environment that influence early immune development to increase the risks for allergic diseases and asthma.
Dr. Gern leads a group of 12 birth cohort studies known as the Children’s Respiratory and Environmental Workgroup (CREW). This study is funded as part of the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) program funded by the NIH. The CREW study is pooling data from these 12 studies to address questions about early life risk factors for asthma that are difficult to study within single cohorts due to limitations on sample size and single center populations. CREW is part of the larger ECHO study, that will pool data from over 70 cohorts to address questions about risk factors for asthma, obesity, neurocognitive development and perinatal outcomes.
Finally, the laboratory is participating in collaborative research projects to define mechanisms for viral respiratory infections to cause long-lived abnormalities of airway structure and function, to identify rhinovirus-induced inflammatory mechanisms involving airway epithelial cells, and experimental inoculation studies of volunteers to investigate rhinovirus pathogenesis. Dr. Gern is also collaborating with Drs. David Andes (Department of Medicine) and Cameron Currie (to culture bacteria from respiratory mucus specimens and understand how these bacteria influence interactions between rhinoviruses and host airway epithelial cells.