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Air Quality: Asthma Research Will Help Kids Breathe Easier

By Kathy Sward, PhD, RN, and Kerry Kelly, PhD, PE, Guest Bloggers

DEQ invites guest bloggers to share their thoughts on issues that impact our environment. We appreciate their insights and the opportunity to broaden the conversation with others in the community.

Asthma is one of the most common childhood illnesses in the U.S. and associated with significant health-care burdens. Frequent illness and trips to the emergency room, as well as the need to take medications and use inhalers, are only part of the burden. Kids miss school, parents miss work, kids may have to limit their activity, and kids with asthma can have other breathing problems. Asthma attacks are scary and really affect the lifestyle of both parents and kids.

We know that poor air quality can trigger asthma symptoms, but there are many nuances. These include specific types and concentration of pollutants; exposure to “everyday” particles such as pollen, cigarette smoke, perfume, or automobile exhaust; the medications the child is taking, and the child’s activity level.

Photo credit: Kerry Kelly (2013)

Photo credit: Kerry Kelly (2013)

We are excited to be working with our colleagues at the University of Utah to build an information system that will help researchers better understand the impact of environmental exposures on asthma and other diseases. We are investigating how environmental and personal metric information can be collected from different types of wearable and stationary sensors. The sensor information would then be combined with health, community, and environmental information.

We are also looking at how information from sensors can be presented in a way that is meaningful – think Google maps type of interactivity. We are trying to create a two-way “information pipeline” that gathers environmental information, analyzes it, and presents information back to parents, children, healthcare providers and researchers.

The University of Utah received a $5.5 million grant from the NIH to build this research infrastructure. We will be collaborating with other research centers across the country to create a national resource for healthcare research that integrates environmental information. The first phase of that program is called Pediatric Research using Integrated Sensor Monitoring Systems (PRISMS).

Our research will help researchers to study environmental, biometric, and behavioral factors that influence pediatric asthma and other chronic conditions in children. This information and the tools to analyze and interpret it will improve the management and treatment of those conditions.

Want to learn more about the PRISMS program? Visit the National Institutes of Health webpage for a detailed description of the program and a list of our research partners.

Kathy SwardKathy Sward: I am an Associate Professor at the University of Utah, in the College of Nursing and the Department of Biomedical Informatics. I have been studying and developing information systems to support researchers and healthcare providers for more than 15 years. I have children and grandchildren with asthma and am one of the Principal Investigators on this grant.

Kerry KellyKerry Kelly: I am an Assistant Professor in Chemical Engineering and Associate Director of the Program for Air Quality, Health and Society at the University of Utah. I also serve as Vice-Chair of the Air Quality Board. I enjoy hiking, biking and skiing. My husband has asthma.