January 28, 2011
By Kris Foster
In late 2010, the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF) announced phase two funding for nine U of S research projects that are examining topics ranging from synchrotron imaging to creative practices for patients with cancer. Below is a profile of one of those projects.
Examining airway-centric diseases like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and sleep apnea in a province where they occur at a disproportionate rate is at the core of work by the U of S Airways Research Group (ARG), one of a number of research efforts supported by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation.
Established in 2009, the group—co-led by John Gordon, director of the U of S Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture, and Don Cockcroft, Division of Respirology in the College of Medicine—is focusing its attention on respiratory diseases that are relevant to the conditions found in Saskatchewan.
“There is an undue incidence of respiratory diseases in parts of Saskatchewan relative to the rest of Canada,” said Gordon. “Under this grant, we will follow the respiratory health of about 300 people in three communities in Saskatchewan.”
With air samplers to be set up in Estevan, Humboldt and Lloydminster, and with 100 people keeping diaries to track their respiratory health in each community, the group hopes to pinpoint specific environmental or industrial air contaminants that exacerbate respiratory problems. “By examining the air samplers’ filters and reviewing the diaries of the participants, we should be able to make correlations between symptom spikes that may occur in the diaries and the contaminants present in the ambient air during that time,” he explained.
“What puts this group in a position to make changes is our collaborative make up of clinicians, environmental hygienists, epidemiologists, a GIS geologist and an expert in mass spectroscopy,” Gordon said. “We are excited about this group of experts and the provincial partnerships we have with the Lung Association of Saskatchewan, the Southeast Saskatchewan Airshed Authority, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health, and potentially SaskPower and Husky Oil.”
The group, because of its long history of research in this area, its wide range of expertise and its provincial partnerships, believes that it will not only be able to identify what environmental factors are associated with respiratory symptoms, but also influence policy in order to improve respiratory health.
Despite the known connections between airborne contaminants and chronic respiratory disease, not to mention its disproportionate incidence in Saskatchewan, there have been no studies that have assessed the links between respiratory disease and these contaminants, he said. “This is a fundamental issue in Saskatchewan. Chronic respiratory diseases affect about one in four people in Saskatchewan. With the second phase of SHRF funding awarded, our research agenda has become clearer. If we can make a connection between respiratory health and environmental contaminants, whatever their sources, then we make a difference.”