Currently, there are approximately 25 million people in the United States who suffer from the lifelong effects of asthma – wheezing, breathlessness, tightness in the chest, coughing – and the numbers are rising each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of people in the United States diagnosed with asthma grew by 4.3 million from 2001 to 2009. Approximately 1 in 10 children and 1 in 12 adults suffer from asthma; the numbers are even higher among racial/ethnic groups, with 1 in 6 children in the African-American population diagnosed with the disease. Virender Rehan, M.D., principal investigator at The Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center (LA BioMed), was recently awarded a two-year, $377,220 grant by the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Child Health & Human Development to conduct a study that could potentially lead to effective treatments and prevention of asthma, which is currently a major public health challenge.
Dr. Rehan’s study focuses on understanding the detrimental effects of maternal smoking, not only on the exposed offspring but also on the many generations that follow. More specifically, the proposed study will determine if the risk of childhood asthma induced following exposure to cigarette smoke during pregnancy is limited only to the offspring of the exposed pregnancy, or if this risk is carried to grandchildren or even great-grandchildren.
“While it is widely known that maternal smoking can pose problems for an unborn child, including asthma, this study is important in that it sheds light on the depth of the issue and raises concerns about the effects of smoke exposure during pregnancy on subsequent generations,” said Dr. Rehan.
Studies have shown that exposure to nicotine in utero affects lung growth and differentiation by altering specific mechanisms that are necessary for fetal lung development, which often results in an offspring’s predisposition to asthma. Now there is strong evidence that these alterations in the structure and function of the lung caused by nicotine exposure during pregnancy can be passed from one generation to the next.
Dr. Rehan’s concept is novel and innovative. This study has already been recognized as ground-breaking and is likely to dramatically change our understanding of asthma. Moreover, by using comprehensive cell-molecular-epigenetic studies to understand the transgenerational effects of smoking on the prevalence of asthma, this study can potentially lead to effective interventions and prevention of this disease, which currently is a major public health challenge.
Dr. Rehan’s research is part of a larger effort by the clinician-scientists at LA BioMed to better understand the long-term impact of maternal health, including diet and lifestyle, on offspring.
Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center (LA BioMed)