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Format: 04/16/2014
Format: 04/16/2014


Heinz Endowments Awards $415,000 Grant to Allegheny General Hospital to Investigate Extent of Childhood Asthma in the Pittsburgh Region

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Research Led by Deborah Gentile, MD, to Probe Causes of Region’s High Asthma Rates, Build Springboard for New Prevention Strategies
PITTSBURGH – The Heinz Endowments has awarded a $415,000 grant to Allegheny General Hospital (AGH), to research the true prevalence of asthma among the region’s school children, begin pinpointing the triggers of childhood asthma and build a base to formulate the best strategies to fight this dangerous disease.
Principal investigator Deborah Gentile, MD, Director of Research in the Division of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology at Allegheny General Hospital (AGH), said the project is intended to develop the most efficient methods of measuring and tracking asthma among our region’s schoolchildren, and also serve as a springboard to further research into the prevalence of childhood asthma across Allegheny County and Pennsylvania, identifying environmental risk factors and developing policies aimed at asthma prevention.
“Though childhood asthma is widely recognized as a problem in the Pittsburgh region, objective data on this epidemic is sorely lacking,” Dr. Gentile said. “For example, it’s been widely reported that 50 percent of Pittsburgh Public School children are using a rescue inhaler for asthma, but we do not know if these children have been formally diagnosed with asthma by specifically trained healthcare providers using objective data.”
Nearly 25 million Americans, and more than 9 percent of children, suffer from asthma.  It accounts for 25 percent of all emergency room visits, and 3,300 deaths yearly, many of which could be avoided with proper treatment and care. African-Americans are three times more likely to be hospitalized for, or die from, asthma.
Despite improvements in recent decades, the air in southwestern Pennsylvania still ranks among the dirtiest in the nation, contributing to significant health problems including asthma, cancer, heart and lung disease, adverse birth outcomes – and even premature death.
The Allergy and Asthma Foundation ranks Pittsburgh as the 16th most challenging U.S. city in which to live with asthma, based on factors such as high level of exposure to known asthma triggers such as poor outdoor air quality, indoor allergen exposure, tobacco smoke exposure and high poverty rates. Some Pittsburgh-area school districts report asthma rates that rank among the state’s highest.
“An ever-increasing number of studies have demonstrated that pollutants in our region’s air negatively affect the lives of local residents,” said Endowments President Robert Vagt. “We support Dr. Gentile’s research as another important indicator of the critical need for all of us in this region to work together to protect the health of one of our most vulnerable groups, our children.”
“We commend and thank The Heinz Endowments for funding this important research,” said Susan Manzi, MD, MPH, Chair of the Department of Medicine, Allegheny Health Network. “Pediatric asthma negatively impacts children’s school attendance and performance, physical activity and social development, at a great financial and social cost.”
The project will enroll 150 fifth graders from three local elementary schools, which are in the process of being selected. Healthcare providers trained in the assessment of pediatric asthma will track their airway function and also track the children’s body mass indexes and exposure to tobacco smoke or physiological stress. The effects of regional air pollution data will be explored and participating schools will be offered environmental building surveys to explore the existence of allergens or pollutants.
 It is anticipated that the results of this pilot study will be used to develop a regional and possibly even statewide screening program for asthma among schoolchildren. Once the asthma prevalence is defined, future studies will focus on identifying triggers of asthma as well as treatment and possible prevention of asthma among schoolchildren. “The ultimate goal is to improve asthma outcomes by eliminating asthma triggers,” Dr. Gentile said. “We believe this research will also lead to the development of asthma screening policies and air pollution policies that will improve public health.”
Joining Dr. Gentile in this research project are Dr. David Skoner, Director of Division of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology at AGH and other researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, as well as representatives from the American Lung Association and the Healthy Schools Collaboration. 
The research is set to begin in January 2014 and will initially focus on three local elementary schools where project directors and consultants are already actively engaged with administrators and school nurses.
“This project will greatly affect the lives of so many families and children, and ultimately impact the entire region,” said Drew S. Keys, Corporate Vice President, Fund Development, AGH and Allegheny-Singer Research Institute. “We appreciate The Heinz Endowments’ commitment to improving the region’s air quality and our children’s health.”
The Heinz Endowments supports efforts to make southwestern Pennsylvania a premier place to live and work, a center for learning and educational excellence, and a region that embraces diversity and inclusion.
The Heinz Endowments’ Breathe Project previously partnered with AGH for “The Air We Breathe: A Regional Summit on Asthma and Other Health Impacts of Air Pollution,” which in 2012 and 2013 brought renowned national experts on air pollution and its health impacts to the Pittsburgh region to speak to local health professionals and government officials and bring attention to this important issue.
AGH is part of the Allegheny Health Network.
For more information, contact:
West Penn Allegheny Health System
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