Supported by a budget of over 22 million TWD, the team has already begun making research and developmental progress since its inception two years ago. Dr. Bing-Chang Chen is looking to build the asthma research team even further over the next 5-10 years in conjunction with President Lin’s plans for thoracic medicine at TMU.
Asthma, a Complex Problem
Asthma is a chronic, long-term inflammatory disease that affects around 400 million people worldwide. When an asthma attack strikes, sufferers experience wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath as their airways become constricted and inflamed. The causes of the disease are complex; over a hundred genes have been implicated so far, and these interact with exposure to environmental triggers like traffic pollution, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and indoor dust.
Almost everyone is familiar with the inhalers used by asthma patients, a puffer that delivers a dose of bronchodilator or corticosteroids that can (hopefully) stop an asthma attack in its tracks. Oral treatments can also provide symptom reduction in the longer term. While rescue medications used in conjunction with daily medications can help reduce asthma related symptoms and mortality, they can also come with unpleasant side effects that include headache, nausea, infection, weight gain, and depression. Even then, severe or chronic obstructive asthma become resistant to treatment as lung function is reduced and airways are obstructed over time.
The interactions between genetics and the environment that lead to asthma are not completely understood, and neither are asthma’s underlying molecular mechanisms. Higher rates of the disease have been reported each year since the 1960s, putting an ever increasing burden on health care. Treatment options for asthma patients do exist – daily medications can reduce the frequency of attacks and rescue treatments are relatively effective at reducing asthma mortality – but disease severity can increase over time, some forms are treatment resistant, and at the present a cure remains elusive. This is something that Dr. Bing-Chang Chen and the TMU asthma team are looking to change.
Attacking Asthma from Different Angles
Asthma is a complicated problem requiring a complicated solution, and Dr. Chen’s research team has two main mission goals: developing a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying the disease, and finding new drugs and treatments to fight it.
As part of President Lin’s direction for Taipei Medical University’s development of cutting-edge research in the field of thoracic medicine, College of Medicine Dean Han-Pin Kuo (himself an asthma researcher) approached Dr. Chen two years ago to create a plan of attack against one of thoracic medicine’s major target. Dr. Chen set about putting together a multi-disciplinary team of experts at TMU’s Center of Thoracic Medicine to come at the complex disease from a multidisciplinary perspective. The team’s major focus is on investigating the molecular mechanisms underlying the disease and developing anti-fibrotic agents of airway remodeling, and translating the basic research into better, more effective drugs.