Scholarships breathe new hope into search for asthma answers

28 Apr 2015

More than $100,000 worth of funding was awarded to two University of Queensland PhD students for asthma research at the Asthma Foundation Queensland’s 50th anniversary event last night.

The Charles Mitchell PhD Scholarship for asthma researchers honours Dr Mitchell’s contribution to Asthma Foundation Queensland.

Dr Mitchell, who has recently retired from the Foundation’s board after 30 years of service, said a better understanding of asthma enabled better treatment, which would improve lives now and in the future.

“Asthma is very common in Australia when compared to international averages, but it is not known why,” Dr Mitchell said.

“Having so many people living with asthma is one reason we should be encouraging more research in this area.”

Asthma affects about 10 per cent of Australians.

The UQ scholarship recipients are Liisa Murray and Johanna Schagen, from UQ’s School of Medicine.

Ms Murray is looking at specific immune deficiencies that affect some people with asthma, and hopes to help health professionals identify susceptible individuals and inform treatment guidelines and vaccination schedules.

“I’m interested in finding out why people with asthma sometimes become very unwell after picking up a simple cold,” Ms Murray said.

“What starts as a sore throat and a sniffle can lead on to a serious flare up of asthma. This may be due to malfunction of the immune system.

“My research will look at the genetic differences people with and without asthma, including people of different ages, genders and types of asthma.

“Having the support of Asthma Foundation Queensland gives real meaning to my work – it shows my research is valued.”

Ms Schagen’s research will measure immune responses to bacteria and viruses in children identified with respiratory symptoms during the first two years of life.

“Lower respiratory illnesses in the first year or two of life are major risk factors for poor respiratory health and asthma in later life,” she said.

Dr Mitchell and researchers from UQ, including Dr Janet Davies and Holly Foot, will be attending the 2015 Australasian Asthma Conference in Brisbane next week (4-5 May), coinciding with World Asthma Day on Tuesday 5 May.

Media: Annette Stenhouse, London Agency, 0416 861 732