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Exciting findings on early origins of respiratory disease

19 Oct 2021

Exciting findings on early origins of respiratory disease

World-first Australian research published recently in Frontiers in Medicine has shown the period around the time airway passages grow and develop in the womb, appears to be a critical window during which any insult to the fetus will affect lung function after birth.

The research was conducted by Dr Kimberley Wang as part of her 2019 Asthma and Airways Career Development Fellowship that was jointly funded by the National Asthma Council Australia and the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand.

While the study was performed on a pre-clinical model (mouse), Dr Wang said that the data generated allows hypotheses to be formed on how prenatal and postnatal disorders interact in humans and reveals new avenues for therapy.

“The pathogenesis of asthma is unclear, but we know that the airways from asthmatic patients have structural and functional abnormalities which are present early in life.

“Our research found that developmental interruptions such as intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) give ‘birth’ to an abnormal airway wall that predisposes to asthma.

“Early monitoring of pregnancy to detect IUGR fetuses could provide early interventions for the mothers, such as improving diet or stopping smoking, that can cause IUGR and will ultimately protect the fetuses,” said Dr Wang. 

Dr Wang said that the significance of the research may change how asthma is treated and could be a catalyst to consider prenatal intervention as a strong candidate as prevention, rather than treatment, to tackle asthma.

“Findings from the study help us understand the interaction of prenatal and postnatal factors of asthma and its impact on disease severity and why not all treatments have the same efficacy on an asthmatic patient compared with another.

“Gaining a full picture of an individual’s growth history might be useful to guide clinical decisions for personalised management of allergic diseases, including the detection, management, and ideally prevention of asthma,” said Dr Wang.

National Asthma Council Australia CEO Bill Petch said they were very pleased to contribute to Dr Wang’s respiratory research.

“We are very proud to assist with the career development of an emerging respiratory expert.  Dr Wang’s research has significant implications that may help predict, prevent and eventually treat asthma for intrauterine growth restricted babies.

“Supporting The Asthma and Airways Career Development Fellowship aligns perfectly with our commitment to build capacity and knowledge within our research and clinical community and our mission to improve Australia’s capabilities to help people with asthma to breathe well by facilitating best-practice care. 

“It is also our way of giving thanks for the generous support of many respiratory experts who provide their expertise in the development of the resources and educational programs we offer as the national authority for asthma knowledge, setting the standard for asthma care,” said Mr Petch.

Dr Wang said the next step is to one day do further studies in humans.

“My future work is to translate findings to a clinical cohort and examine the association between birth weight and airway responsiveness in subjects with and without allergy, and with and without doctor-diagnosed asthma,” she said.

Link to study:

Note to editor:

Dr Kimberley Wang was the recipient of the 2019 Asthma and Airways Career Development Fellowship, jointly funded by the National Asthma Council Australia and the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand.

The aim of this Fellowship is to enable mid-career investigators to establish themselves as independent, self-directed researchers and foster the development of research in respiratory medicine in Australia and New Zealand. The fellowship is to the value of $60,000 for one year.

Now based at The University of Western Australia’s School of Human Sciences, Dr Wang is building up a research group investigating in utero mechanisms for the development of asthma.

For further information or an interview with Dr Kimberley Wang, please contact:

Donna Le Page, Le Page PR Mobile: 0429 825 703 Email[email protected]


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