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Genetics of Asthma in African Americans

Asthma affects some populations in the US more than others, NPR reports. African-American children, it adds, are twice as likely as white children to have asthma and are 10 times as likely to die of asthma-related complications. And genetics appear to play a role.

"You have a family, a person who has four kids, and all of them have it, including me," Zunika Crenshaw tells NPR. "And then my mom has it, and my sister's two kids."

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, are searching for genetic risk factors that may predispose African Americans to asthma. But, in May in Immunogenetics, the UCSF team reported that a number of the genetic risk factors already linked to asthma — typically found in studies focusing on Caucasian or European Americans — don't generalize to African Americans.

"The majority of genetic studies, not just in asthma but in most diseases, are done in Caucasian- or European-descent populations," first author Marquitta White tells NPR. "The longest studies do not really include very many minority populations, which means that most patients aren't getting the best care, because we don't really know what the disease etiology is in their particular population."

Medications, too, affect different populations in different ways, NPR adds. "One of our hypotheses is that what's underlying this huge mortality in African-American children is the fact that the most commonly prescribed drug for asthma is albuterol," White adds. "The problem is that not everyone responds to albuterol the same way."

The team is now seeking to understand how genes influence drug response in African-American, Mexican-American, and Puerto Rican children.