NEWS | November 4, 2015

New technology will help define the environmental triggers of childhood asthma

UC Davis researchers receive funding to develop a wearable sensor device

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.)

UC Davis researchers have received a four-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a small, wearable sensor that can measure the relationship between environmental exposures and pediatric asthma.

Nicholas Kenyon Nicholas Kenyon

The hope is that the device will lead to new treatment options for the more than 5 million children in the U.S. who have asthma, a chronic, inflammatory lung disease that restricts breathing and is a significant cause of hospital visits and missed school days.

“Asthma is more common and harder to control in regions with high pollution levels, but we don’t know the specific chemicals that trigger it,” said co-principal investigator Nicholas Kenyon, chief of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at UC Davis and a specialist in difficult-to-treat asthma. “The new device will help by providing detailed, real-time data on the occurrence of bronchospasms in relation to environmental exposures.”

Co-principal investigator Cristina Davis, professor of mechanical and aeronautical engineering, worked with Kenyon to develop and test initial components of the device, which combines lung-function with breath-measurement and chemical-sensing technologies. Their initial work was funded by The Hartwell Foundation, UC Davis Clinical and Translational Science Center (CTSC) and the National Science Foundation.

The new grant — part of the NIH’s Pediatric Research using Integrated Sensor Monitoring Systems, or PRISMS, Program — allows the team to integrate the technology into a pen-sized form that can be easily worn in the pockets of children. Once developed, the device will be pilot tested to determine its clinical potential.

Cristina Davis
Cristina Davis

“We are creating a critical tool in finding the ‘missing links’ in our understanding of asthma,” said Davis. “If we can identify the source and components of chemicals that lead to pulmonary exacerbations, we are well on our way to policy changes and treatments that protect children.”

In addition to Kenyon and Davis, researchers on the UC Davis grant are Robin Steinhorn, senior vice president of hospital-based specialties at Children’s National Health System, and Michael Schivo, assistant professor of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at UC Davis. Their collaborators include the CTSC and the UC Davis Environmental Health Sciences Center, and their funding is provided through NIH grant number U01EB022003-01.

More information about the UC Davis Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine and the UC Davis College of Engineering is at www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/internalmedicine/pulmonary/ and engineering.ucdavis.edu/. More information about the PRISMS Program is at www.nibib.nih.gov/research-funding/prisms.