$2.58M in Federal Funds Allow College of Pharmacy Researcher to Study Poorly Understood Fungal Asthma

“Asthma affects thousands of Arizonans each year, and this chronic disease can be fatal,"

Thanks to new federal funding, a University of Arizona Health Sciences research team will seek to develop new, effective therapies to treat fungal asthma, a poorly understood form of the disease.

Yin Chen, PhD, an associate professor at the UArizona College of Pharmacy specializing in chronic airway diseases, and his UArizona colleagues will use a major federal grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to seek a better understanding of fungal asthma caused by exposures to environmental fungi. The NIAID, a unit of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), awarded Dr. Chen a five-year, $2.58 million research grant to develop therapies to treat this poorly understood cause of asthma.

Affecting more than 25 million Americans, asthma is a condition in which the bronchial tubes become inflamed when triggered by an outside factor, whether that involves irritants in the environment, allergies, exercise, stress or even certain weather conditions. Fungal allergy drives asthma severity in large numbers, accounting for about 30% of asthma patients worldwide. Clinical data on fungal asthma, and its associated complications, however, is limited and current treatment is lacking, so Dr. Chen hopes this study will help fill those knowledge gaps.

“Asthma affects thousands of Arizonans each year, and this chronic disease can be fatal,” said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins, MD. “The research conducted by Dr. Chen through this significant grant will shed light on – and potentially help develop treatments for – a relatively unknown asthmatic trigger, which could make a huge difference in the lives of asthma patients impacted by this disease throughout the world.”

This NIAID/NIH grant will support a research study, “Fungal Asthma and Lung Innate Immunity,” with several projects that include studying fungal sensitization in asthma patients, as well as a re-analysis of human clinical samples from the Severe Asthma Research Program. With data gleaned from this study, UArizona researchers expect to develop a better understanding of how disease development occurs and refine novel therapies to address this unmet medical need.  

“This grant’s success will advance our knowledge about the development of fungal asthma in the short term,” Dr. Chen said. “In the long term, we will seek to develop an interferon-based therapy for the treatment of this disease.”

Interferon-based therapies have been used to treat viral infections such as hepatitis C. Named for their ability to interfere with viral replication, interferons are one of the body’s most rapidly produced and important defenses against viruses, but they also have been known to repress allergic responses in the body. In a recent study that is currently in preparation for publication, Dr. Chen’s team made a surprising discovery that interferons also play a critical role in lung immunity against fungal infections.

As part of the grant-funded effort, Dr. Chen will test whether interferons can be used to treat fungal asthma by directly inhibiting fungal growth and repressing fungal allergy.

“Because interferon alpha and beta are approved drugs for other diseases, the success of our study will lay a foundation to repurpose them for fungal-asthma treatment, which has no effective therapy,” Dr. Chen said.

Among UArizona colleagues, Dr. Chen will collaborate with: Michael Daines, MD; Eugene Bleecker, MD; Deborah Meyers, PhD; Xingnan Li, PhD; Donata Vercelli, MD, and Fernando Martinez, MD, from the Asthma and Airway Disease Research Center; and College of Medicine – Tucson colleagues, Dominik Schenten, PhD, and Deepta Bhattacharya, PhD, with the Department of Immunobiology.

This research is supported by an NIAID/NIH grant under Award No. R01AI149754.


This story was originally published by UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA HEALTH SCIENCES