Learn more about asthma

Asthma: Disease Overview

Asthma is a common immune system disease that affects the lungs. As many as one in 13 people in America, including many children, live with asthma. BRI’s team is working to better understand the immune cells and processes that lead to asthma. We’re also working to identify new treatments that target the underlying cause of asthma, unlike most existing therapies which only treat the symptoms. Finding new treatment options and determining how to find the best therapy for each person is also a key piece of BRI’s asthma research.

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a disease that affects the lungs and often starts during childhood. When a person with asthma experiences an asthma exacerbation, also called an asthma attack, their airways can become swollen, narrow and produce extra mucus. This makes it difficult to breathe. Asthma symptoms are caused by different triggers in different people. Common triggers include viral infections, allergens like pollen and mold, and air pollution.

What Causes Asthma?

Scientists, including those at BRI, are still working to understand why some people develop asthma. Both environmental and genetic factors influence asthma risk. Asthma is particularly common in dense urban areas and among socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals. Children who develop allergies are at significantly higher risk of also developing asthma. Poor air quality and living in a place with high levels of air pollution for a long time also increase the likelihood of developing asthma. Asthma tends to run in families, but the genetic contributions are only partially understood. Some children who experience serious respiratory infections during infancy and early childhood may also be more likely to develop asthma.

What Is the Latest Research Into Asthma?

BRI's current research includes:

  • Examining epithelial and immune cells from the airways of children with asthma to better understand what goes wrong during an asthma attack.
  • Understanding how viral infections and air pollution trigger asthma.
  • Conducting fundamental research and testing immunotherapies that target the root cause of asthma.
  • Working toward personalized medicines for asthma.

Labs Studying Asthma

Altman Lab Main

Altman Lab

The Altman lab focuses on use of whole genome transcriptional profiling and multi-omics approaches, and leverages big-data computational biology to understand the molecular mechanisms underpinning severe asthma and other immunologic diseases.
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Ziegler Lab Main

Ziegler Lab

The Ziegler laboratory is investigating the role of the epithelial cytokines TSLP and IL-33 in regulating protective responses at mucosal barrier surfaces such as the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts.
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Are you living with asthma?

Support asthma research at BRI by participating in our allergies and asthma biorepository.

Blog Stories

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Big Data Reveals Surprising Defense Against COVID-19

“If you’d asked me in March 2020, I’d have said the pandemic was going to be really bad for my asthma patients. But we saw the opposite,” says Matt Altman, MD, MPhil, who treats patients with allergies and asthma at UW Medicine and conducts research at BRI.
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BRI's Vision of Immune Health

A message from BRI President Jane Buckner, MD, about BRI's new, broader vision for immune health.
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December 14, 2022

Immunology to Change Lives: Where We're Going in 2023

BRI was formed with a clear plan: First, answer key fundamental questions about the immune system. Then, build on those answers to change lives. This is a very exciting time because we’re reaching that second stage of the plan.

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Immuno-what? Hear the latest from BRI

Keep up to date on our latest research, new clinical trials and exciting publications.