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Cockroaches May Unlock Asthma Answers

Part two: The Eastern-Western treatment connection


In the city of Boston, a volatile situation is brewing. Research into allergic asthma has shown a strong correlation between allergies to cockroaches and asthmatic response. The majority of allergic asthma sufferers are children living in low-income urban areas. And Boston Housing Authority apartments, like many public housing units in large urban areas, suffer from pest problems, with as much as 30 percent heavily infested by cockroaches. Patricia Hynes, a professor of environmental health in the School of Public Health, is using research into the connection between asthma and cockroaches to change public housing policy, as shown in part one. Dan Remick, the chairman of the pathology department in the School of Medicine, is applying the findings to the search for a cure.

“The impact of asthma on the health of the nation is significant,” says Remick, whose lab has been researching pulmonary diseases for the past 10 years. “It costs literally billions of dollars a year for treatments.”

Remick’s research is guided by the correlation between allergies to cockroaches and the development of asthma in children in inner cities. Previously, most asthma research was performed by inducing asthma in mice based on the animals’ allergies to egg whites, but since egg whites are not an allergen for most humans, it was difficult to replicate the results. Now, Remick’s lab induces asthma in mice using cockroach allergen — the same thing that is contributing to the asthma problems of so many inner city children — and using the results to find new treatments.

One of these new methods is actually thousands of years old: the research has demonstrated that Chinese herbal medicines often work to block the asthmatic response in mice. Now, Remick is studying exactly how the medicines work within the body. “There’s a need to go and use Western scientific approaches to prove that these medicines work or don’t work,” he says, “and then, to go and figure out exactly how they work.”

For more information on Dan Remick’s lab, click here.

Click here to watch "Part one: The public health approach."

Devin Hahn can be reached at dhahn@bu.edu.


One Comment on Cockroaches May Unlock Asthma Answers

  • Anonymous on 08.29.2008 at 12:51 am


    i want to know the prevention method.

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