Burchard Lab study finds most asthma research may not apply to African American children

Results from the largest single study of the genetic and environmental causes of asthma in African American children suggest that only a tiny fraction of known genetic risk factors for the disease apply to this population.

The research, published online on May 3, 2016, in advance of print publication in the June 2016 issue of the journal Immunogenetics, also identified new genetic risk factors for asthma in these children, a critical first step toward improving diagnosis and treatment.

“Almost all the genetic studies of asthma have been done using white patients only, but you can’t assume these results will apply to other ethnic groups,” said UCSF School of Pharmacy faculty member Esteban Burchard, MD, MPH, who senior-authored the study. “This paper is an important first step towards truly understanding the biology of asthma in African Americans.”

The study analyzed genetic data from 1,227 participants in the Buchard Lab’s ongoing Study of African Americans, Asthma, Genes, and Environments (SAGE)—812 subjects with asthma and 415 healthy controls—to identify genetic markers associated with the onset of the disease in African Americans and to compare these markers with those already known from previous research.

To the researchers’ surprise, 95 percent of known genetic risk factors for asthma from previous research could not be replicated in the SAGE participants. The results clearly show that the biology of asthma is different in African American children than in previously studied groups.

The study was co-lead-authored by Marquitta White, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in Burchard’s Asthma Collaboratory, and Oona Risse-Adams, a student at San Francisco’s Lowell High School and a lab intern.

Burchard holds the Harry Wm. and Diana V. Hind Distinguished Professorship in Pharmaceutical Sciences II in the UCSF School of Pharmacy. His lab is based in the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, a joint department of the UCSF Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine.


Most Asthma Research May Not Apply To African-American Children


School of Pharmacy, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, PharmD Degree Program, PSPG

About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.