Press Release

Major Childhood Asthma Workshop gets under way in Cork – Martin welcomes EU Initiative

Representatives from 13 European countries are attending a Workshop in University College, Cork, to develop new proposals for tackling childhood asthma under the direction of the European Commission┬┤s Joint Research Centre (JRC) headed by Cork man Barry Mc Sweeney.

The JRC is pioneering a new approach – human envirogenomics -combining the examination of genetic predisposition with environmental factors to better understand the complex causes and triggers of diseases in an effort to significantly improve prevention. As a demonstration project, the JRC has focused on childhood asthma.

As a result, the JRC is actively promoting the creation of a major European research initiative on this topic: the Childhood Asthma Envirogenomics (CASE) project. Its main objective is to find correlations between asthma symptoms, genetic information and environmental exposures to known asthma-triggers and promoters in different parts of Europe (EU25) in large population studies. To achieve this, appropriate biomarkers of exposure have to be identified and the resulting laboratory and field data analysed using state-of-the-art bioinformatics.

In view of the multidisciplinary character of this research effort, the scientific workshop[1] in Cork brings together leading environmental scientists, clinicians, human genome experts, bioinformaticians and life scientists from all over Europe, including leading Irish experts in this field. The JRC has commissioned two studies in preparation for the workshop identifying the scope and funding of on-going research on asthma-related topics as well as the prevalence and cost of childhood asthma in Europe.

Minister Martin, in welcoming this initiative, said that “despite much research and the development of modern therapies, the incidence of childhood asthma in Europe remains unaccountably high. In some countries, notably in Ireland and the U.K, the incidence is unacceptably high with 30% of children displaying some asthma symptoms. I therefore welcome this EU initiative to look beyond conventional approaches and to examine other factors like lifestyle and genetic predisposition to find a better mix of prevention and treatment in dealing with this condition affecting so many young (Irish) children. This approach also accords with, and indeed feeds into, the Irish Presidency approach under which I will be putting proposals to the Health Ministers Council in June. I am confident that this will give an important boost to work in this area and will hasten the day when children currently affected by asthma can go about their normal childhood activities without fear or concern”.