Children with asthma are often prescribed inhalers to help relieve their difficulty with breathing. But these devices don’t work equally well for all kids, especially African-American and Puerto Rican children, because of genetic differences, suggest new findings published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, according to the University of California San Francisco (UCSF).

For the study, researchers in the UCSF Asthma Collaboratory assessed 1,441 children with asthma from these population groups with very high or very low responses to the drug albuterol, the drug most commonly prescribed worldwide to treat this respiratory illness. (The study is the first large-scale whole-genome-sequencing to investigate the genetic factors that contribute to albuterol’s ineffectiveness among minority kids compared with children of European descent.)

Among these youngsters, scientists found new genetic variants linked with a reduced reaction to albuterol that implicated genes involved in lung capacity, immune response and sensitivity to blockers and related medications. (Researchers noted a definite relationship with a variant in the NFKB1 gene, which is more prevalent in folks with African ancestry.)

“This study is an important step toward developing precision medicine for at-risk and understudied minority populations,” said Esteban Burchard, MD, MPH, a physician-scientist in the Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine at UCSF and the study’s lead investigator. “But the current lack of genomic data from these populations highlights the urgent need for a dedicated national effort to prioritize diversity research.”

These findings could help doctors predict children’s responses to anti-asthma drugs and serve as a guide to developing new, more effective therapies that could help reduce the disproportionate asthma mortality rates among minority populations.

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