University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Press Release

NIH grant supports UWM research into treatment for asthma that may reduce side effects

Asthma is a growing health care problem, affecting an estimated 245 million people globally with nearly 25 million afflicted in the U.S. alone.

By - Oct 2nd, 2014 03:34 pm

MILWAUKEE – The National Institutes of Health have awarded chemists at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) nearly $2 million to support a four-year program to develop a new drug therapy for asthma that reduces the potential for adverse effects.

Asthma is a growing health care problem, affecting an estimated 245 million people globally with nearly 25 million afflicted in the U.S. alone, or about 8.2 percent of the U.S. population. It is the most common chronic disease of children with severe impact on U.S. minority populations.

While several drugs are used extensively to combat asthma symptoms, they are not always effective. The disease may become resistant to treatment and current medications can cause side effects.

The UWM scientists will pursue a novel asthma treatment that targets the gamma amino butyric acid (GABA) receptors in lung tissue. GABA receptors help calm nerve activity in the central nervous system, but the compound the scientists are testing is designed to relax the smooth muscle in the lungs, tame inflammation and allow the airways to open.

The researchers hope to avoid the use of steroids with their compound and make it easier for children to take by replacing inhalers with an oral medication.

The research team members include Distinguished Professor of Chemistry James Cook; Alexander Arnold, assistant professor of chemistry; and Douglas Stafford, director of UWM’s Milwaukee Institute for Drug Discovery (MIDD). The research team also includes Dr. Charles Emala at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Dr. Mitchell Grayson at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

“This program links key drug discovery strengths at UWM, including Cook’s large library of medicinal compounds, Arnold’s compound screening and drug design expertise and MIDD’s drug testing resources,” Stafford notes. “Analytical chemistry instrumentation available in UWM’s new Southeastern Wisconsin Applied Chemistry Center of Excellence will be used extensively in the asthma research program.”

The center was funded earlier this year through a UW System Incentive Grant. The work is further funded through a Bradley Catalyst Grant awarded through the UWM Research Foundation.

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