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Research project

STELAR (Study Team for Early Life Asthma Research) consortium - Asthma e-lab and identification of novel endotypes of childhood asthma

Project overview

Asthma is the most common chronic disease of childhood and causes many hospital admissions. The number of children suffering from asthma has increased dramatically over the past 30 years. It is unclear why some people get asthma and others do not. Asthma is largely heritable, but despite lots of effort we have had limited success identifying which genes are important, and genetic studies of asthma have not yet had a positive impact on patient care. Many factors in the environment may contribute to the development of asthma (for example diet, immunizations, antibiotics, pets and tobacco smoke) but we don't know how to modify the environment to reduce the risks. One reason for the difficulty in understanding causes of asthma is that asthma may be a collection of different diseases which cause similar symptoms. As asthma generally starts early in life, the best way to study it is to recruit new born babies and follow them as they grow (so-called birth cohort). During early life it is possible to measure many things, such as exposure to allergens, (generally cats, dogs and dust mite) constituents of the diet and antibiotic usage. Questionnaires are used to collect information from parents about symptoms, and as the children get older they can take part in measurements of lung function and allergy testing. Most are willing to give sample for genetic testing. In the UK there are 5 such birth cohorts that have been designed to facilitate the study of risk factors for asthma and allergies. The Manchester Study has more than 1,000 children under active follow up; clinical follow up is complete for age 1, 3, 5, 8 and 11 years. The study from Aberdeen included 1,924 children who were followed up 6 months, 1, 2, 5 and 10 years. The Ashford birth cohort followed 642 children until age 12 years. The Isle of Wight study recruited 1,456 children, completing follow up at ages 1, 2, 4, 10 and 18 years. ALSPAC recruited through antenatal clinics in the former County of Avon, and enrolled 14,062 infants. Follow up is complete to age 16 years. All have collected data using questionnaire and performed measures of lung function and skin tests at intervals throughout early life. The researchers who lead these studies have worked together as a network over the last 7 years - the Study Team for Early Life Asthma Research (STELAR consortium). Over recent years we have adopted identical research methodologies, recognising that although each cohort is unique, there are many aspects in which we can work together, to increase our chances of detecting the main causes of asthma. We now propose to create a major new alliance which will combine our world-leading expertise in birth cohorts (STELAR consortium) with expertise in health informatics research (NW Institute for Bio-Health Informatics) and cutting-edge computational statistical methods (so-called statistical machine learning, with experts at our Industrial partner at Microsoft Research Cambridge). Our alliance includes clinicians, public health and epidemiology researchers, statisticians, informaticians and software engineers. We will construct a web based resource (Asthma e-Lab) in which to securely store all the data collected on the cohorts and recipes for analysing the data so that a larger group of scientists can repeat the work. This will enable consistent recording, description and sharing of data and emerging findings across all partners. We will also complete clinical follow-up of cohort participants where necessary. We will work together to apply newly developed state-of-the-art data analysis techniques to build complex models to describe different types of 'asthma' and investigate risk factors for each asthma subtype. In doing so we hope to understand the basic biological mechanisms that underlie the different forms of asthma, Our findings may underpin new trials of asthma prevention and may help identify targets for the discovery of novel therapies which are matched to specific patients.


Lead researcher

Professor Hasan Arshad

Prof in Allergy & Clinical Immunology
Other researchers

Professor John Holloway PhD, FHEA

Associate V-P Interdisciplinary Research

Research interests

  • Human genetics
  • Epigenetics
  • Respiratory Disease

Professor Graham Roberts

Prof in Paed. Allergy & Resp. Medicine

Research outputs

Ceyda Oksel,
Raquel Granell,
Sadia Haider,
Sara Fontanella,
Angela Simpson,
Steve Turner,
Graham Devereux,
Clare S. Murray,
Graham Roberts,
Paul Cullinan,
John Henderson,
Adnan Custovic,
, 2019 , Annals of the American Thoracic Society , 16 (7) , 868--876
Type: article
T. Nakamura,
S. Haider,
S. Colicino,
C.S. Murray,
A. Simpson,
P. Cullinan,
A. Custovic,
, 2019 , British Journal of Dermatology , 181 (6) , 1272--1279
Type: article
Adnan Custovic,
John Ainsworth,
Christopher Bishop,
Iain Buchan,
Paul Cullinan,
Graham Devereux,
John Henderson,
Steve Turner,
Ashley Woodcock,
& Angela Simpson
, 2015 , Thorax , 70 (8) , 799--801
Type: article