Lawrence University Biochemist Awarded NIH Stimulus Grant for Asthma Research

APPLETON, WIS. — A Lawrence University researcher has been awarded a grant by the National Institutes of Health to support his research on asthma.

David Hall, associate professor of chemistry, will receive $30,824 from the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases division to fund four additional summer research students in 2009. This latest grant supplements a previous NIH grant for $206,000 Hall received in 2006 initiate his current project.

Hall’s research examines the mechanisms by which rhinovirus, better known as the common cold, activates immune cells known as macrophages, leading to the exacerbation of asthma. Previous studies have identified immune cells as playing an important role in increasing the severity of irritation of the respiratory system during an asthma attack, but the details of the role of macrophages are still very poorly understood.

“During an asthma attack, the cold virus causes an asthmatic’s lung muscles to spasm, restricting air flow and the person’s ability to breathe,” said Hall, a biochemist who specializes in viruses and the immune system. “What this research is trying to understand is the mechanism by which the common cold triggers these attacks. This is a unique way to approach the problem and hopefully will lead to new avenues of treatment for asthma.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16.2 million adults and 6.7 million children are afflicted with asthma. In 2006 (the most recent year figures are available), asthma-related problems resulted in nearly 11 million doctor visits and accounted for more than 3,600 deaths.

The NIH grant will expand to eight the total number of students working on this problem in Hall’s laboratory this summer and also will provide $4,000 for research supplies and equipment.

“This grant gives our students a fantastic opportunity to do real world research with the potential to make a significant impact on a serious health problem, said Hall. “It’s also a springboard for stimulating student curiosity in basic science and exploring why things happen the way they do.”

Two of Hall’s current research assistants, senior Bryce Schuler and junior Michael Schreiber, were among 20 students representing 100 universities and colleges who were recognized with honors at the recent American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology meeting in New Orleans for research they presented on the role the rhinovirus plays in the exacerbation of asthma.

Hall’s grant is supported by funds provided to NIH through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which as signed into law by President Obama in February with the purpose of stimulating the American economy through job preservation and creation, infrastructure investment, energy efficiency and science, and other means.

The Recovery Act provides NIH with $10.4 billion to be invested over the next two years into accelerating biomedical research and training greater numbers of future science researchers and teachers.