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University of Iowa News Release


July 25, 2008

'Outsiders' receive grant to study asthma

A research grant program that encourages "thinking outside the box" will allow a team of University of Iowa investigators to apply findings from heart research to the study of asthma.

Specifically, the team has received a three-year, $750,000 grant from the Strategic Program for Asthma Research, known as SPAR, to see if an enzyme known to play a role in heart failure might also affect smooth muscle cells in the airway and thus play a role in asthma. The basic science research focuses on CaM kinase II, which has been under scrutiny in other UI research.

"We are taking a fresh look at the role of calcium signaling in asthma, and are applying some ideas and results from the cardiovascular field that have never before been considered in the field of asthma," said study investigator Isabella Grumbach (right), M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of internal medicine in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

The study team includes five UI faculty members, four of whom are based in cardiology and have never studied asthma, and only one whose field of expertise is asthma. The team aims to learn more about airway smooth muscle cells.

Grumbach's lab will grow the cells and monitor their response (for example, for inflammation) to the enzyme. She also will supply mouse models to investigate the response of airway smooth muscle cells to CaM kinase II inhibition.

The study will be led by Mark Anderson (left), M.D., Ph.D., UI professor of internal medicine and molecular physiology and biophysics, who has previously published, and has other studies underway, on CaM kinase II as it relates to heart issues.

Competition for the award was considerable, noted Anderson, with only 17 projects out of 255 applications funded this year.

"This kind of research is meant to help examine 'holes' in the paradigm of current asthma understanding. We're not asking safe, predictable questions, but getting involved because sometimes people from outside a field can help with a paradigm shift," said Anderson, who also holds the Potter-Lambert Chair in Cardiology. 

In addition to Grumbach and Anderson, the team includes Joel Kline, M.D., professor of internal medicine; Peter Mohler, Ph.D., associate professor of internal medicine; and Long-Sheng Song, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine. Anderson, Grumbach, Mohler and Song also are members of the UI Heart and Vascular Center.

Kline is an asthma expert and provided precursor data to help the team apply for the study. Mohler has expertise in helping determine the mechanical and electrical function of cells, while Song brings expertise in measuring calcium responses.

"It's a great partnership, and another example of what can happen when there is a focus on innovative scientific collaboration by generous funders and motivated researchers," Anderson said.

Learn more about SPAR, which is funded by the American Asthma Foundation, at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5137 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: Becky Soglin, Health Science Relations, 319-335-6660,