UTMB seeks 10 to 15 volunteers for 'potentially ground-breaking' study 


GALVESTON - Everyone already knows what causes asthma attacks: It's an allergic reaction to things like cigarette smoke, house dust, cat hair, horse hair, cockroach feces and other environmental substances, right?

Maybe not.

The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, which the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently designated as part of its Asthma Clinical Research Network (ACRN), has joined seven other premier respiratory centers nationwide in a federally funded study of whether the conventional medical wisdom is wrong, in whole or in part.

"We're looking to find out whether asthma may be caused by an infectious organism," said pulmonologist and allergist William J. Calhoun, M.D., vice chair for research in UTMB's Department of Internal Medicine and Sealy and Smith Distinguished Professor of Internal Medicine.

Just as most stomach ulcers - long believed to be a result of stress - ultimately were shown to be caused by a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori, Dr. Calhoun said asthma researchers a decade ago began to wonder whether some or all cases of  asthma might be the result of a bacterial infection, too. After all, in recent years bacteria also have been linked to coronary artery disease, arthritis and some inflammatory bowel disorders like Crohn's disease, he noted.

The implications of this "potentially ground-breaking" study are huge, Calhoun said: "It could mean that we might cure asthma or some cases of it simply and cheaply with antibiotics."

The so-called Macrolides in Asthma, or MIA, clinical trial aims to test whether the "commonly available and inexpensive antibiotic clarthromycin might greatly benefit asthmatics who have significant bacterial infection in their airways," explained Calhoun. He said he was part of the ACRN steering committee that "studied the existing literature and developed a very carefully designed protocol allowing us to answer this question."

UTMB is seeking to enroll 10 to 15 people between 18 and 60 years old with "moderate" asthma (defined as an attack once a day) taking regularly scheduled asthma medication. The volunteers for this first clinical trial must be willing to undergo diagnostic procedures including breathing tests and a 15-to-20-minute broncoscopy. Participants will be provided free antibiotics and clinic visits and will be compensated for their time and out-of-pocket expenses.  Those seeking to participate should contact ­­­­­­­­­­Alyson Clayborn at arclaybo@utmb.edu or 409-747-1887 or Debra Altemus at dealtemu@utmb.edu or 409-772-5503.

The MIA clinical trial is part of a wide-ranging effort to study the cause or causes and best treatments for asthma. It is the first of three scheduled studies by the eight ACRN institutions to be undertaken as part of a five-year, more than $50 million NIH grant. In addition to UTMB, the other participating institutions include the University of California, San Diego; the University of California, San Francisco; the National Jewish Medical and Research Center, Denver; Brigham & Women's Asthma Research Center, Boston; Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis; Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, N.C.; and the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison.

The other two pending NIH-funded studies include the Best Adjustment Strategy for Asthma in the Long Term (BASALT), designed to provide doctors with a valid, experience-based strategy for adjusting asthma medications, something that doesn't exist at present, Calhoun said; and Tiotropium as an Alternative to Long-acting beta-agonists and Corticosteroids (TALC). Tiotropium is a safe, well-tolerated drug currently used to treat bronchitis and emphysema, but it has never been tested on asthmatics.

UTMB will conduct training exercises May 2 and 3 for institutions taking part in the BASALT study. Calhoun is the lead investigator for that study.

The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
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