American NIH grant to Danish research on childhood asthma
Copenhagen Prospective Studies on Asthma in Childhood (COPSAC), led by Professor Hans Bisgaard, University of Copenhagen, receives 2 million US dollars from the American National Institutes of Health (NIH), for a Danish research project.
The grant was awarded to uncover the mechanisms underlying the development of childhood asthma, which today affects approximately 20% of all pre-school-age children in the westernized world. The project is based on extensive data and biological samples from 700 Danish children followed closely since the last part of their mother's pregnancy in the COPSAC (Copenhagen Prospective Studies on Asthma in Childhood) mother-child cohort. The children have undergone extensive tests and assessments with the aim to follow the development of asthma and related diseases long before symptoms occur and COPSAC represents today one of the world's most comprehensive and detailed cohorts describing the development of health and disease in early life.
Mothers and children are carefully described, including immunological and genetic analyzes, along with assessments on environmental factors focusing on bacteria and viruses as well as diet. This new project will focus on epigenetic changes, i.e. changes affecting the activity of genes without changing the DNA code. The hypothesis is that epigenetic changes are the link between environmental factors and genetic heritage. Specifically, the project focuses on the importance of environmental factors in the very early life, including pregnancy, for children's later development of asthma and other chronic diseases.
The project is in collaboration with researchers at the Universities of Chicago and Arizona, and an important part of it will comprise the development bioinformatic methods making it possible to integrate such diverse information and data collected over time, with the goal of getting an insight into the mechanisms underlying the early development of health or disease. The researchers expect that their findings will help laying the ground for new prevention strategies and treatments that could eventually reduce the current extent of childhood asthma and other chronic diseases.
The vast majority (98 %) of NIH grants goes to the United States and Canada, and it is rare that a Danish research team receives direct support from the US research agency.