Team Led by Dr. Hongmei Zhang Receives NIAID Grant for Asthma Study

February 3, 2016 - Dr. Hongmei Zhang and a team of researchers from the University of Bristol, the University of Southampton and Michigan State University have been awarded an R01 grant by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health with a preliminary study funded by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America for the study of epigenetic methylation and the gender switch in adolescent asthma. Zhang is an associate professor in the Division of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Environmental Health and coordinator of the Biostatistics Program in the UofM School of Public Health.

Early prevention of asthma is essential to reduce the burden of this high-impact and avoidable disease. Asthma is more common in boys among pre-teenagers, but during adolescence it becomes more common in girls.  This "switchover" is likely caused by factors that influence gene activities – for example, DNA methylation of nucleotides.

"Dr. Zhang's team is tackling new research to address high rates of childhood asthma, a significant problem for many Memphis families," says Dr. Lisa Klesges, dean of the School of Public Health. "This is a great example of nationally recognized research at the University of Memphis that can lead to future benefits in reduced disease burden in our community."

This assessment will identify asthma risk factors that influence DNA methylation; evaluate the agreement of methylation in peripheral blood leukocytes (PBL) and bronchial epithelial cells (BEC); and in PBL and in BEC, functionally assess the identified epigenetic marks in cis and trans via gene expressions and risk factors.

The projects are designed to critically impact the ability to prevent the incidence and promote the remission of asthma during adolescence. The team is developing efficient statistical tools for analyzing longitudinal data in genome scale to make further advances in statistical methodology in the bioinformatics area.

"This award is a result of great team work with researchers from different institutes and different countries," said Zhang. "We are excited about this award and believe the findings will significantly impact the seemingly unrelated research fields of asthma and statistical methodology."

Contact: Gabrielle Maxey