$2.9M NIH Grant Supports Research to Help Urban Teens Manage Asthma

Oct. 15, 2014

Managing persistent asthma can be a challenge for adults, but it’s even more difficult for teenagers learning to take control of their health. Peer pressure, feelings of embarrassment or insecurity, and busy school and activity schedules, are just some of the factors that make it a challenge for teens to stay on track with their daily asthma management routines.

When you add this to the fact that they often think they’re invincible to health problems, their risk of serious complications becomes even greater.

For more than a decade, nurse researcher Hyekyun Rhee, Ph.D., R.N., P.N.P., associate professor at the University of Rochester School of Nursing, has been working to develop unique interventions to support teens in managing their asthma.

At such a critical time in their life, teens need to know they are not alone in this battle to control their asthma.

Her latest project — funded by a $2.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health — will actually support teens in helping each other in this vital area.

The five-year study, called the “Peer-led Asthma Self-Management Program for Adolescents (PLASMA): A Multi-site Study” will give teens an opportunity to open up and learn about managing their asthma at an interactive day camp with their peers.

“This program will give them the confidence to talk and learn about their disease within a trusted peer environment,” Rhee said. “At such a critical time in their life, teens need to know they are not alone in this battle to control their asthma.”

Asthma is the most common chronic condition among children and adolescents today. The issue is even more pressing among inner city youth. This vulnerable population experiences more emergency department visits, hospitalizations and deaths due to poorly-managed asthma.

The multi-site, randomized controlled study will test the program in three cities where asthma is highly prevalent among inner city youth: Buffalo, Baltimore and Memphis, Tennessee. The study will enroll 42 peer leaders and 378 teens ages 12 to 17. The program was first tested in Rochester in 2007 with the support from the NIH and found that the intervention helped to improve the teens’ attitudes, their control over their asthma and quality of life, especially for inner-city teens from families with a low-income.

The effects of the PLASMA program on asthma outcomes and quality of life will be assessed against a comparable program led by adults. The ultimate goal of the study is to offer an effective and developmentally sensitive way to empower urban teens to manage their asthma care well into adulthood.

Rhee has also led collaborative research projects aimed at helping teens track and manage their asthma symptoms through the use of mobile devices, contributing to her breadth of asthma research.  

Study collaborators include Arlene Butz, ScD., RN. professor at Johns Hopkins, Patricia A. Cowan, Ph.D., R.N., professor at University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Ding-Geng Chen, Ph.D., professor at the University of Rochester School of Nursing, and Yue Li, Ph.D., associate professor at URMC Public Health Sciences.