Promising Technology Might Help Identify Asthma Earlier

It’s not ready for prime time, but a radiation-free MRI technique could eventually be used to predict which high-risk children will develop asthma, based on data presented by Dr. Daniel Jackson at a press conference at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, in San Francisco.

courtesy of flickr user kquedquest (creative commons)

MRI has been used to assess lung function in adults, but Dr. Daniel Jackson and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, hypothesized that they could obtain similar lung function data from children that could be used to predict asthma risk.

Using a technique developed by study co-author Sean Fain, Ph.D., 43 children aged 9-11 years underwent MRIs after inhaling hyperpolarized helium. The children were selected from the Childhood Origins of Asthma (COAST) project, a long-term observational study of a birth cohort of children at increased risk for asthma.

Using the technique, “we were able to look at the architecture of the lungs,” Dr. Jackson said at the press conference, as areas of the lungs that are not well-ventilated appear black on the MRI. The children’s lungs were assigned defect scores based on the MRI observations.

Children who already had asthma were significantly more likely to have defects than those who didn’t have asthma. But the more interesting finding was that girls were significantly more likely to have higher defect scores compared to boys, whether or not they had asthma.

What does this mean for disease expression? Dr. Jackson said that the next steps call for imaging the children again at age 12-13 years. Although the helium imaging technology is not ready for diagnostic use, it might serve as a biomarker for girls in particular who are at risk for developing persistent asthma after puberty, Dr. Jackson said.

For an excerpt from Dr. Jackson’s comments at the press conference,  click below.

–Heidi Splete (on twitter @hsplete)

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Filed under Allergy and Immunology, IMNG, Pathology, Pulmonary Diseases and Sleep Medicine

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