Genetic Susceptibility to Inflammatory Airway Diseases

Chronic inflammatory airway diseases include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cystic fibrosis (CF). Together, these conditions contribute to an enormous burden of death and disability worldwide. It’s estimated that 10 to 15% of 13- to 14-year-olds in Canada are asthmatic. COPD affects close to half a million Canadians 35 and older, currently ranking 12th worldwide as a cause of lost quantity and quality of life and projected to rank 5th by the year 2020. CF is the most common, fatal genetic disease affecting Canadian children and adolescents.

There is compelling evidence supporting a hereditary pattern to virtually all of the major inflammatory diseases. For example, more than 1,000 CF-causing gene mutations have been identified. Although some mutations are associated with less severe disease, patients possessing the same mutations often show great variation in disease severity and progression. Significant advances in molecular genetics make it possible to discover the specific genetic variants that determine individual susceptibility to these illnesses.

Dr. Andrew Sandford is investigating the genetic variants that cause susceptibility to asthma and COPD. He is also focused on the role of genetics in CF. He works with a unique group of patient families who have previously been involved in studies to establish the associations between their genetic variations and their disease symptoms. A better understanding of the causes of inflammatory airway diseases will contribute to better prevention and/or intervention measures and more efficient treatment strategies.