Electrical and Computer Engineering Associate Professor Neal Patwari and School of Computing Assistant Professor Miriah Meyer are part of a multidisciplinary team at the University of Utah that is creating a database of information studying the effects of air quality on kids with asthma.

For many doctors, figuring out what caused a kid’s asthma attack means opening up regional air quality databases and applying a lot of guesswork.

While pollution from cars and other sources is known to trigger asthma in some children, there are a number of lesser-understood factors that also increase their risk – everything from viral infections to stress to playing soccer all day.

A team of University of Utah researchers has received a $5.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering to develop an informatics platform that will make it possible to crowdsource scientific data and, eventually, pinpoint the cause of a child’s wheezing.

“Retail is doing this already,” explains Julio Facelli, Ph.D., professor of biomedical informatics and an associate director at the Utah Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS). “We’ll be using some of the same big data techniques but applying them to biomedical research, which is much more complex.”

Facelli, along with co-principal investigator Kathy Sward, Ph.D., R.N., associate professor of biomedical informatics research at the College of Nursing, is leading teams to create an Internet-based “infrastructure” that will enable kids with asthma, parents, doctors and researchers to feed real-time information into a comprehensive database.

“Pediatric asthma is complicated and we don’t fully understand how to control it,” Facelli says. “Our system will allow researchers worldwide unprecedented access to environmental exposure and other clinically relevant data, enabling them to answer questions they didn’t even know they could ask.”

The grant, a component of the Pediatric Research using Integrated Sensor Monitoring Systems (or PRISMS) program from the NIH NIBIB, will run for four years. Over that time, the team of researchers – and a group of between 10 and 20 Utah families – will test personal air quality monitors and create Web-based interfaces that could form the foundation of future pediatric asthma research.

Read the full press release at the U of U Healthcare news site.