Reflecting on asthma research on World Asthma Day

06 May 2019

An initiative by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA), World Asthma Day is held on the first Tuesday of May each year and aims to improve asthma awareness and care around the world. Today, the Clifford Craig Foundation reflects on their two ongoing studies contributing to asthma research.

Asthma is a long-term condition of the lungs where a person’s airways constrict in response to a wide variety of trigger factors, making it difficult to breathe. About 13% Tasmanians suffer from asthma, with the prevalence of asthma being higher for those living in regional areas.

The Clifford Craig Foundation facilitates medical research at the Launceston General Hospital and the other public hospitals in Burnie and Latrobe. Among the eight research studies currently being funded by the Clifford Craig Foundation, two of them are currently researching issues involving asthma.

As a follow-up to a previously funded Clifford Craig Foundation project into childhood asthma, Dr Heinrich Webber is exploring the high occurrence of childhood asthma in the North West of Tasmania. Asthma is the most common chronic condition in childhood and the most common reason for children being hospitalised.This research project aims to confirm if childhood asthma is more common in North West Tasmania, compared to Australia in general. It will provide more evidence to confirm the findings of the earlier study that generated significant public interest, which showed that asthma is more common in young children (6 to 8 years) in North West Tasmania than the rest of Tasmania.

Dr Jim Markos, Director of Respiratory Medicine at the Launceston General Hospital and Clifford Craig Foundation Director commends this research. “Everyone knows someone who has asthma and there is nothing more heart-wrenching than to watch a child struggling to breathe during an asthma attack” He adds “Loss of work, admissions to hospital and premature death are caused by asthma. Treatment is available but this doesn’t work for everybody. There is a lot more to learn and the Clifford Craig Foundation recognises that.”

The second study is currently being undertaken by Dr Sukhwinder Sohal into the prevalence of Asthma-Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Overlap Syndrome (ACOS) in the North West Tasmanian population. Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) are typically characterised as separate diseases with different clinical features, mechanisms and strategies for treatment. However, some patients with respiratory illness appear to have features of both diseases and may exhibit, for example a history of asthma and smoking.  It is likely that ACOS is consistently misdiagnosed and thus is sub-optimally managed as “only” asthma or COPD. There are still no set guidelines to diagnose/manage it and no “drug-trials” have ever been conducted. Better management is likely to decrease the burden on individuals and the health system, and will inform clinical practice.

Dr Markos, who has been serving the community at the Launceston General Hospital for almost 30 years highlights the importance of the research that the Clifford Craig Foundation funds.

“As a doctor who has worked at the Launceston General Hospital since 1990, I have watched the hospital expand its workforce and medical expertise. The Clifford Craig Foundation provides the main source of funding for local medical specialists to conduct research into locally relevant clinical problems, this promotes a culture of collaboration and optimism. It facilitates more learning and striving for excellence. The availability of research funding helps to recruit and retain new medical specialists. This enhances the locally available medical services, which translates into improved medical services in our local region.”

He adds, “We are not able to fund all the projects which are submitted and many of these are worthy of support. The more donations and support given to the Clifford Craig Foundation, then the more support that can be funded for the benefit of the local community” he says.

To support research like this, please donate to the Clifford Crag Foundation at: https://cliffordcraig.org.au/donate-now/