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National Asthma Conference June 19-21 on Advances in Prevention and Control

For Immediate Release:
June 13, 2003

Leading Asthma Experts Present New Research and Insights

The nation's leading asthma clinicians, researchers, and public health experts will present the latest scientific advances in asthma prevention and control at a national conference June 19-21 at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. Conference highlights include reports on novel approaches for treating asthma attacks, environmental triggers of asthma attacks, the health effects of outdoor air pollution, innovative and effective community programs, and creative ways to educate patients.

The conference, "Steps to a HealthierUS—Meeting the Challenge of Healthy People 2010: Preventing and Controlling Asthma," is sponsored by the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP), a cooperative effort of 41 professional, voluntary, and federal organizations. NAEPP is coordinated by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

"We must continue to improve the ways we treat and manage asthma so that we can reduce its effect on our children and other vulnerable populations," Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said. "This conference provides an important opportunity for asthma experts to share their knowledge and even map out new approaches to prevent asthma complications."

Disease prevention and health promotion are top priorities of HHS. The first national asthma meeting of its kind in over a decade, the conference advances HHS' new $15 million Steps to a HealthierUS. Based on the goals and objectives of Healthy People 2010, the Steps initiative supports comprehensive, community-based programs that focus on health promotion, prevention, and control of asthma, diabetes, and obesity.

"Over the past decade, our understanding of the mechanisms that underlie asthma has advanced dramatically, and we have made great progress in developing safe and effective methods to manage asthma," said Dr. Claude Lenfant, NAEPP Coordinating Committee chair and NHLBI director, who will provide opening remarks. "But we still have much to do for asthma patients. This conference is a unique opportunity to learn about state-of-the-art approaches to asthma prevention and management."

More than 1,000 health professionals from across the country are expected to attend eight plenary and 60 concurrent sessions throughout the three-day conference. Thousands more will view sessions via satellite downlink at 51 sites in 28 states and Canada. The Honorable Christine Todd Whitman, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), will welcome participants. EPA is one of several conference cosponsors.

"The need for this conference is critical. Of the 20 million Americans with asthma, 60 percent do not have their condition under control, which can lead to hospitalization and, in some cases, death. The most vulnerable patients are children, African Americans, and low-income families," said Conference Co-Chair Dr. William Busse, professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin Medical School. Busse is co-chairing the conference with Dr. Barbara Yawn, director of research for Olmstead Medical Center in Rochester, Minnesota.

In a keynote address, Busse will discuss the evolution of asthma and studies of the interrelationship between the genetic aspects of the disease and disease onset, environmental interactions, diagnosis, and treatment.

Another conference highlight will be a panel discussion on June 21 (11:00 a.m.), "Making a Difference in the Lives of People with Asthma," moderated by former Washington, D.C., TV news anchor Paul Berry. Panelists are noted pediatrician and researcher Dr. Shirley Murphy, director of the Food and Drug Administration's newly created Division of Pediatric Drug Development; Morgan O'Murray, Miss Colorado 2002, an asthma patient and advocate; and Dr. Kelly Rothe, who established a grassroots educational campaign and asthma camp for adolescents in Rochester, New York, after witnessing her brother's fatal asthma attack.

The following HHS agencies are conference cosponsors: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Health Resources and Services Administration. Other conference cosponsors include Allergy Research Foundation; Allies Against Asthma; the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology; the American Academy of Pediatrics; the American Lung Association; the Institute for Johns Hopkins Nursing; the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; and the University of Florida College of Pharmacy.

Selected Conference Highlights:

Disparities Among African Americans and Latinos

African Americans are more than twice as likely as whites to die from asthma. Dr. Floyd Malveaux, dean, Howard University College of Medicine, will describe environmental and psychosocial risk factors for asthma among African Americans, and interventions to help reduce asthma-related complications and death. Dr. Marielena Lara, director of the University of California Los Angeles RAND Program on Latino Children with Asthma, will discuss asthma-related public health issues for Latinos in the United States, including the fact that Puerto Ricans are at greater risk than Mexican Americans, Cubans, non-Latino blacks, and whites. (Presentation, June 19, 11:15 a.m. ? 12:15 p.m.: "Asthma Awareness that Addresses Racial and Ethnic Concerns.")

The Genetics of Asthma: Visions for the Future

Environmental exposures that protect some individuals from developing asthma might put others at increased risk. The difference could be in the genes. Dr. Fernando Martinez, professor, University of Arizona Medical Center, shares how identifying genetic patterns related to asthma development may ultimately lead to the development of genotype-specific drugs to prevent asthma in otherwise susceptible individuals. Such an approach could significantly impact African Americans and other populations at increased risk. (Plenary presentation, June 21, 9:45 a.m. ? 10:45 a.m.: "Genetics, Health Disparities, and Asthma: Promising Research Outcomes and Application Visions for the Future.")

Code Red Signals Trouble for People with Asthma

Poor air quality - especially high levels of ozone, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide ? can increase asthma symptoms and severity. Susan Stone, an EPA environmental health scientist, explains the health effects of air pollution and new research that suggests that heeding air quality index advisories can help reduce the number of childhood hospitalizations for asthma. (Presentation, June 20, 4:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m., "Code Red Signals Trouble for People with Asthma.")

The "Hygiene Hypothesis" of Asthma

The "hygiene hypothesis" suggests that exposures in early life to certain infections, to other children, and to pets in the home, condition the immune system so that allergies and asthma are less likely to develop. Dr. Scott Weiss, professor of medicine, Harvard University, explores the natural history of asthma and environmental factors associated with increasing or decreasing disease risk. (Plenary Presentation, June 20, 8:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.: "Promote Asthma Awareness -- Environmental Factors Influencing Asthma Development.")

Asthma: It's Not Just About the Lungs

There is growing evidence that asthma severity can be influenced by other conditions and diseases outside of the lung, such as sinus infections, allergic rhinitis, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (known as GERD). Dr. Gail Shapiro, clinical professor of pediatrics, University of Washington, discusses detection, diagnosis, and treatment of other conditions in asthma patients. (Presentation, June 20, 2:45 p.m. - 3:45 p.m.: "Therapeutic Issues: Making Difficult Decisions - Managing Co-morbidity, Rhinitis, Sinusitis and GERD.")

High-Tech Solutions

Dr. Paula Lozano, assistant professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, will describe a high-tech approach to improve asthma treatment. The randomized, controlled trial is evaluating a real-time computerized decision support system for clinicians. The support system gathers patient data on touch-screen tablets in the waiting room and then gives health care providers crucial treatment recommendations from national clinical guidelines. (Presentation, June 20, 2:45 p.m. ? 3:45 p.m.: "Implementing Asthma Guidelines in Primary Care Using Computerized Decision Support.")

Community Coalitions

NHLBI-supported coalitions serve communities that are disproportionately affected by asthma. These coalitions develop innovative, model programs for improving asthma care at the local level through partnerships among healthcare providers, school administrators, social service agencies, and other groups. The impact of community coalitions in improving asthma detection and management will be described at several sessions. For example:

  • Indianapolis: "Policies that Impact People with Asthma ? What the Hoosiers Are Doing" (June 20, 4:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.).
  • Chicago: "Building Community Awareness and Support" (June 21, 8:30 a.m. ? 9:30 a.m.)
  • Arkansas: "Management: Influencing Clinicians-Systems Change - Improving Primary Care Providers Management of Medicaid Children with Asthma in a Rural State" (June 21, 8:30 a.m. ? 9:30 a.m.)

Stress, Violence and Asthma

Current research supports the hypotheses that stress, including violence, may influence asthma through biological processes and behavioral patterns. Dr. Rosalind Wright, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, Channing Laboratory, reports on two ongoing studies that are examining the role of stress in asthma. In the Home Allergens and Asthma Study, Wright and colleagues found that chronic stress in children with asthma (as reported by their caretakers) predicted repeated wheeze episodes and a greater immune response to dust mites and cockroaches. In the Inner-City Asthma Study, Wright found an association between caretakers' reports of violence and more days that children with asthma had symptoms, including wheezing. (Presentation, June 21, 8:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m. "Stress and Asthma/Atopy: Results from Ongoing Cohort Studies.")

The conference program is online at http://www.asthma2003.net/. Reporters can register on-site at the main conference registration desk. Registered reporters are welcome for breakfast and refreshments in the conference Press Room in the Eisenhower Room (mezzanine level) of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, 2660 Woodley Road, N.W., Washington, DC 20008. Additional news tips and b-roll of asthma patients will be available in the conference Press Room. Press room hours: June 19, 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; June 20, 7:30 a.m. to  5:00 p.m.

For more information, call the NHLBI Communications Office at (301) 496-4236.