School of Medicine

Wayne State University School of Medicine

NIH grant funds additional researcher on young African-American asthma sufferers

Karen MacDonell, Ph.D.

Karen MacDonell, Ph.D.

Young African-American asthma sufferers will be the beneficiaries of a National Institutes of Health grant that funds a new research position and study within the Wayne State University School of Medicine.

The $625,397 grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute not only funds the transition of Karen MacDonell, Ph.D., assistant professor of the Department of Pediatrics, to a tenure track position, it also allows a replacement for her as project manager of current asthma studies and creates a new research assistant position.

“I now have start-up money to begin my own research,” said Dr. MacDonell, project director of the Family Community Access To Child Health and the Asthma Family Project for Wayne State University. “I will continue to focus on asthma, but I am planning on developing technology-based interventions for African-American emerging adults (ages 17 to 22) with asthma.”

That research will incorporate the use of computers, personal digital assistants, cell phones, texting and the Internet to address asthma disparity among younger African-American patients. The first phase of that study, now under way, explores the experience of living with asthma and gathering youth input to develop the proposed intervention. Dr. MacDonell plans to apply for independent government funding for her research in 2010.

The rate of deaths from asthma for children in Detroit is 5.4 times higher than the rate for all Michigan children, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health. The number of asthma-caused emergency room visits for children living in Detroit consistently tracks 60 percent higher than similar emergencies across the state. In 2006, the latest year for which statistics are available, the number of hospitalizations for asthma in Detroit outstripped statewide numbers, three to one.

According to the state Department of Community Health and the Asthma Initiative of Michigan, African-American children are hospitalized for asthma at a rate 4.2 times higher than that of white children. The prevalence of persistent asthma is 23 percent higher for African-American children than their white counterparts. African-American children visit emergency rooms for asthma at a rate 2.7 times that of white children.

School of Medicine researchers Sylvie Naar-King, Ph.D., and Deborah Ellis, Ph.D., associate professors in the Department of Pediatrics and the Pediatric Prevention Research Center, are using a $2.4 million grant for their study, “Multisystemic Therapy to Reduce Health Disparities in Adolescents with Asthma.” Dr. MacDonell had been managing that research.

With this most recent grant, Phebe Lam will take over Dr. MacDonell’s prior position, and Robert Berry joins the department as a new research assistant.
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