Although asthma is a disease that's been the target of billions of dollars of research and study, the problem on a macro scale continues to grow in the United States. Presently, more than 20 million people in the United States suffer from asthma, which represents a large growth in terms of the percentage of the population that deals with this disease every day. In fact, during the last 20 years, the prevalence of asthma has nearly doubled in number.
While this is a disturbing trend, it also helps medical researchers identify what course of study needs to grow with this number in order to work towards an eradication of the disease once and for all. In June of 2004, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) held a working group session that helped to lay out the different areas of research that needed additional focus as asthma continues to be a problem. These areas appear below.
- Innate immunity, adaptive immunity, and tolerance – This aspect of study will center on what natural defense mechanisms in the body help to prevent and fight asthma, whether these defense mechanisms are adaptable and whether a human body can tolerate the presence of the disease.
- Mechanisms and consequences of persistent asthma and asthma exacerbations – Researchers have been encouraged to study whether the presence of/exposure to certain microbes will lead to a persistence in asthma in patients.
- Airway remodeling: clinical consequences and reversibility – Surgical techniques will also be examined to find out if the disease can be minimized with structural changes.
- Genetics/gene–environment interactions, pharmacogenetics – While studies have shown promise in terms of finding genes that could be associated with the disease, researchers were encouraged to continue this course of study in an attempt to one day locate and identify a gene or group of genes that lead to the development of asthma.
- Intervention/prevention/therapeutics – Innumerable studies have already been done that have led to breakthroughs involving certain materials that lead to attacks, but more study is needed to expand the list of environments and materials that should be avoided.
- Vascular basis of asthma – It's already well–known that blood vessels are very relevant to asthma, as they help recruit inflammatory cells to the airway, which is the fundamental basis of an asthma attack. The group acknowledged, however, that much more learning is needed.
While this list may seem quite long and daunting, one should keep in mind that as recently as 20 years ago, almost none of these items were even identified for study. If science continues its current course, it is possible that asthma will one day be cured.