WHAT IS ASTHMA?
Asthma affects around 1 in 10 people, meaning that all families will have a friend or relative with the disease. Asthma varies in severity, and when triggered results in wheezing and coughing. In severe asthma, this difficulty in breathing can be life threatening. When an asthma attack occurs, the lungs become inflamed and the muscles which control breathing become constricted.
The cause of asthma and asthma attacks is still not clear and it is believed to be due to a number of factors including genetics, infection and the environment. Likewise, asthma attacks can be triggered by a range of factors such as cold air, stress, exposure to pollen or simply exercise.
HOW THE WOOLCOCK STRIVES TO TREAT ASTHMA
The Woolcock works with the healthcare sector and asthma sufferers to understand how their disease can be treated more efficiently. Understanding how people use their medications and why a significant proportion struggle to do so correctly is an important aspect of our work. We work with community and hospital pharmacists to develop new training materials for patients and work with the Pharmaceutical Industry to develop new inhalation medicines and approaches to treatment. These strategies are as diverse as high-tech inhalers that remind you if you miss a dose, training GPs in communication skills and the use of the Internet for monitoring health. Our team is leading a major revision of international asthma guidelines, to improve asthma outcomes at a global level.
Pharmacists provide easy access for the community and these healthcare professionals have adopted our training and intervention programs. This ‘pharmacist care’ has improved control over asthma and helped patients to manage their inhalers and disease. We also work with the disabled and elderly populations to understand specific needs of people with asthma who have cognitive or device handling issues.
We are developing diagnostic tools that allow us to evaluate the severity of asthma and use 3-dimensional imaging techniques to understand how the airways in asthmatics close and become obstructed. We are studying how the lungs in asthmatics change over time. At a cellular level, we are investigating how extracellular matrix proteins are involved and are developing new drug delivery systems that target these changes.
Our teams have been collecting cells from volunteers, over many years, and have been studying them to understand the molecular differences between people with and without asthma. With an understanding of the fundamental mechanisms we can create new molecules and drug delivery technologies which we can trial in the clinic. It is also known that exposure to viruses, such as the common cold, can make asthma worse. We investigate why infections cause airways to become stiffer and less responsive to asthma drugs. We need to understand how this happens, and then we can counteract their effects on the lungs. At a cellular level, our research has discovered one of the mechanisms by which asthma medications become less effective during viral infections and we have identified a pre-existing drug which may be beneficial.
The Australian Centre for Airways disease Monitoring (ACAM), formerly known as the Australian Centre for Asthma Monitoring, is a collaborating unit of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare based at the Woolcock Institute. The Centre gathers data from across Australia, through all state health departments, to track asthma at a national level. ACAM has been collecting prevalence, management and treatment data for over 10 years. These data are used to inform health policy decisions and develop new approaches to managing and treating asthma.
A Woolcock report on the trends in asthma control over the last 20 years (since the introduction of the asthma guidelines) can be read here: Asthma Control in Australia 1990-2011
We are committed to understanding and eradicating this condition. If you would like to support our research please click the donate button.
WE CAN HELP YOU
Get your asthma treated by the best at the Woolcock Clinic, a world-leading medical centre specialising in the diagnosis and treatment of all sleep and breathing disorders. Our dedicated clinicians are at the forefront of international asthma research, ensuring our patients get access to the very latest approaches in care.
Our inter-disciplinary approach allows patients to be treated under one roof at our state-of the art facility in Glebe, Sydney.
T: (02) 9114 0000
F: (02) 9114 0010