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WSU researchers win grant to combat asthma in minority teens

March 18, 2009

Detroit - A pair of Wayne State University School of Medicine researchers will use a National Institutes of Health grant to devise methods to decrease the frequency and severity of asthma attacks in minority children living in the Detroit area.

Sylvie Naar-King, Ph.D., and Deborah Ellis, Ph.D., both associate professors in the Department of Pediatrics and the Pediatric Prevention Research Center, secured a $3,669,059 grant for their "Multisystemic Therapy to Reduce Health Disparities in African-American Adolescents with Asthma" study. Dr. Naar-King will serve as principal investigator for the study and Dr. Ellis will serve as co-investigator.

Asthma, Dr. Naar-King said, is the most common cause of hospitalization for children after infections. Minority children living in urban areas, especially adolescents, appear at risk for higher rates of frequency of the condition and higher rates of death from asthma.

"Poor illness management is thought to be a primary driver of asthma morbidity and mortality," Dr. Naar-King said. "Yet, there are few randomized controlled trials with inner-city adolescents with asthma."

The complexity of asthma management, she explained, requires intensive, "multi-component" interventions to improve the lives of the children at highest risk.

Study investigators will use Multisystem Therapy to improve asthma management, and reduce emergency department visits and hospitalizations due to asthma attacks among high-risk African-American children ages 12 to 16 who have moderate to severe asthma. Children who have been hospitalized at least once in the past year meet the high-risk qualification.

Multisystem Therapy consists of counselors going into the homes of asthmatic children to advise families on how best to change their environment and develop systems to ensure children adhere to schedules for medicine so that an attack does not spiral into a trip to the emergency room. The counselors also help families locate experts who can help adapt the home environment to make it more hospitable to asthmatics and make certain the teens have a primary care physician they see.

The study calls for a randomized controlled trial with 170 adolescents. Eighty-five will receive standard multidisciplinary specialty care and serve as a control group. The other 85 will receive standard care and MST. Families enrolled in the study will complete an initial data collection session, a seven-month post-test designed to coincide with treatment completion and a post-test at 12 months.

"If successful, this intervention will provide immediate assistance to a vulnerable population disproportionately affected by asthma and may reduce costs of care for this high risk population," Dr. Naar-King said.

Enrollment in the study, which began in January, continues. Families interested in taking part in the study can call Karen Kolmodin at (313) 966-2366.