Lessons Learned for the Study of Childhood Asthma from the Centers for Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research

The National Children’s Study will address, among other illnesses, the environmental causes of both incident asthma and exacerbations of asthma in children. Seven of the Centers for Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research (Children’s Centers), funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, conducted studies relating to asthma. The design of these studies was diverse and included cohorts, longitudinal studies of older children, and intervention trials involving asthmatic children. In addition to the general lessons provided regarding the conduct of clinical studies in both urban and rural populations, these studies provide important lessons regarding the successful conduct of community research addressing asthma. They demonstrate that it is necessary and feasible to conduct repeated evaluation of environmental exposures in the home to address environmental exposures relevant to asthma. The time and staff required were usually underestimated by the investigators, but through resourceful efforts, the studies were completed with a remarkably high completion rate. The definition of asthma and assessment of disease severity proved to be complex and required a combination of questionnaires, pulmonary function tests, and biologic samples for markers of immune response and disease activity. The definition of asthma was particularly problematic in younger children, who may exhibit typical asthma symptoms sporadically with respiratory infections without developing chronic asthma. Medications confounded the definition of asthma disease activity, and must be repeatedly and systematically estimated. Despite these many challenges, the Children’s Centers successfully conducted long-term studies of asthma.

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