Over the years, and as part of our broader commitment to research on lung diseases, the NHLBI has led and supported asthma research to discover better prevention and treatment options. Research supported by the NHLBI has also helped us understand what leads to and affects asthma, and it has provided doctors with information about what treatments work best for people who have asthma.
NHLBI research that really made a difference
For nearly 20 years, the NHLBI Severe Asthma Research Program (SARP) has transformed our knowledge of severe asthma. Research supported through the program has identified secondhand smoke, pneumonia, and obesity as key risk factors for asthma. Studies have also found genetic variations linked with severe asthma and biomarkers for asthma severity. Researchers can request access to the data on dbGaP.
Research funded by the NHLBI
Our Division of Lung Diseases and its Airway Biology and Disease Branch oversee much of the research on asthma we fund. The Asthma Program supports research related to asthma, including the role of inflammation in the development of asthma, genetics and asthma, and clinical management of asthma in adults and children.
Current research on asthma treatment
- How ventilators may lead to asthma: The NHLBI-funded Post-Vent study will use data collected from the Prematurity-Related Ventilatory Control (Pre-Vent): Role in Respiratory Outcomes NHLBI Collaborative Program to study long-term health outcomes of premature birth and intermittent low oxygen levels shortly after babies are born prematurely. These babies often develop asthma. This study will try to predict which premature babies are most likely to develop asthma.
- Why medicines work: An NHLBI-funded study is assessing how an antibiotic called azithromycin (AZ) reduces severe wheezing in preschool children seen in the emergency room. While prior studies have shown that AZ benefits these children, it is unclear if the beneficial effects are because of the antibacterial activity of AZ or because of the anti-inflammatory activity of AZ. To help answer this question, this study will compare whether children with bacteria growing in their throats get more benefit from AZ treatment than children who do not have bacteria growing in their throats at the time they go to the emergency room with severe wheezing.
- Personalized medicine: The Precision Interventions for Severe and/or Exacerbation Prone Asthma Network (PrecISE) is conducting clinical trials to identify personalized medicine approaches that treat severe asthma more effectively. It has established 30 locations nationwide that will test new and approved treatments based on each patient’s specific biology and biomarkers.
Find more NHLBI-funded studies on asthma treatment at NIH RePORTER.
Current research on asthma biology
The different bacteria in a person’s body can affect the immune system. We support studies to figure out whether different bacteria play a role in developing certain types of asthma.
- Airway cells and asthma: NHLBI-funded research will look at how genes are regulated in airway epithelial cells to better understand how they affect the development of asthma. Epithelial cells line the lung’s airways. As researchers learn more about how changes in the cells lead to asthma, they hope to develop treatments to reprogram the epithelium and prevent or cure asthma and other lung diseases.
- Bacteria in the airways: An AsthmaNet study found different bacteria in the airways of people with asthma compared to those without asthma. Some of the observed differences could help predict the response to inhaled steroids. Researchers can request the data through our Biologic Specimen and Data Repository Information Coordinating Center.
- Targeted treatments for severe asthma: NHLBI-supported researchers are developing new and personalized approaches to treating severe asthma. The study builds on earlier research which led the researchers’ discovery of three mechanisms that are relevant to severe asthma.
Find more NHLBI-funded studies on asthma biology at NIH RePORTER.
Current research on asthma disparities
African Americans are more likely to develop asthma and three times more likely to die from asthma-related causes than white Americans. Research on this topic is part our broader commitment to addressing health disparities and inequities.
- Genetic factors: The Consortium on Asthma among African-Ancestry Populations in the Americas (CAAPA) aims to discover genes that confer asthma risk among individuals of African ancestry and to study genetic diversity in populations of African descent. Read some of the results here or request access to the data on dbGaP.
- Comprehensive care for at-risk children: We also fund the Asthma Empowerment Collaborations to Reduce Childhood Asthma Disparities. We support clinical trials to evaluate programs that provide comprehensive care for children at high risk of poor asthma outcomes, such as low-income minority children.
- Race, sex, and socioeconomic factors: The NHLBI recently launched the DECIPHeR program to study differences in heart and lung diseases among groups defined by race and ethnicity, sex and/or gender, and socioeconomic status. The first projects began in September 2020, with one project focused on asthma in children in Colorado. Working with communities across the state, from rural to urban areas in Colorado, researchers will work with school-based asthma navigators and nurses to test a team approach to asthma control in school children in low-income areas.
Find more NHLBI-funded studies on asthma and health disparities.
Asthma research labs at the NHLBI
The Laboratory of Asthma and Lung Inflammation, located within the Pulmonary Branch, is focused on developing new treatment approaches for people with severe asthma. Headed by Stewart J. Levine, M.D., the lab’s researchers found a new biological pathway that leads to asthma. They continue to study this pathway, as well as an important molecule in it called apolipoprotein E (ApoE).
Related asthma programs and guidelines
- The NAEPP’s Expert Panel Report 4 (EPR-4) Working Group was established in 2018 to update the 2007 Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma (EPR-3) in focused topic areas. The working group members reviewed the latest research to update the guidelines on treatments and management of asthma, including the role of immunotherapy, the effectiveness of indoor allergen reduction, and the use of fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO).
Read Asthma Management Guidelines: Focused Updates 2020.
- Learn More Breathe Better® is a national health education program for asthma, COPD, and other lung and respiratory diseases. The program raises awareness about asthma and other lung conditions and supports the promotion, implementation, and adoption of evidence-based care. Learn More Breathe Better® Asthma offers a series of asthma handouts to patients and caregivers, including tips for talking to your doctor.
- Since 1989, the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP) has worked with medical associations, voluntary health organizations, and community programs to educate patients, healthcare professionals, and the public about asthma.
- The Lung Tissue Research Consortium (LTRC) provides human lung tissues to qualified investigators for use in their research. The program enrolls patients who are planning to have lung surgery, collects blood and other clinical data from these donors, and stores donated tissue that otherwise would be discarded after the lung surgery. The LTRC provides tissue samples and data at no cost to approved investigators.
Explore more NHLBI research on asthma
The sections above provide you with the highlights of NHLBI-supported research on asthma. You can explore the full list of NHLBI-funded studies on the NIH RePORTER.