In-State Families Propel Utah’s Air Pollution and Pediatric Asthma Tracking Study

Inspired by University of Utah Health Sciences’ Algorithms for Innovation blog entry on Nov. 28, 2015. This is not an official University of Utah Health Sciences publication and is only intended to serve as a display of my writing ability.

The beauty of Utah’s terrain and scenery is belied by the smog and inversion that brings adverse effects on lung development in children. Accompanying long with increased rates of asthma accompanied by more medication use, visits to health care problems and emergency room visits.

Factors such as increased outdoor activity and breathing in more air per pound of body weight have made healthy children a sensitive group for ozone and particle pollution according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

So how much smog do we inhale? What kind of pollution are we exposed to? What we know about the answers to these questions right now is far from ideal.

“Pediatric asthma is complicated and we don’t fully understand how to control it,” said co-principal investigator Julio Facelli, Ph.D., professor of biomedical informatics and an associate director at the Utah Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS).

“Our system will allow researchers worldwide to get answers to questions that they didn’t even know they could ask.”

How do you solve the puzzle of containing asthma among youth without knowing exactly what pieces are available on the table? This is where the families of Utah are getting involved hands-on and taking a proactive position to help University of Utah Health Sciences reveal a solution to the riddle.

Thanks to a $5.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health lasting four years, faculty members of the University of Utah’s Nursing, School of Medicine, Engineering and Mines and Earth Sciences are selecting a group of Utah families whose children have asthma to participate in and conduct their own research.

A first step has already been made as “small sensors” have been offered in the EPA’s Air Sensor Toolbox to help regular citizens collect, analyze, interpret and communicate their localized air quality data. According to, the toolbox allows members to sample methodologies, calibrate and validate approaches, measure method option, provide data interpretation guidelines, supply education and outreach information as well as low-cost sensor performance evaluation.

This project will take the toolbox’s precedent one step further with more in-depth findings and research.

The first stage will include children and parents in laying the groundwork for the research infrastructure.

In later stages, the objective of the project will set a benchmark for future research by allowing children and parents to experiment with both wearable and home-based environment monitors.

Research will also be geared toward developing web-oriented interfaces to enter data and analyze the gathered results.

“We see parents and kids and researchers as a really core group of our team,” said Kathy Sward, Ph.D., RN, co-principal investigator on the grant and an associate professor of biomedical informatics research at the College of Nursing.

Participants will be selected based on their inquisitiveness and enthusiasm for the project.

“We want people who are really willing to think about this from a process standpoint, people who are willing to play with the ‘toys’ and beat the daylights out of this software. You want it in the hands of people who are going to do every crazy thing they can imagine with it…and push every button.”

While outdoor air quality is the primary focus of past research, the research team does recognize that significance of indoor conditions.

“Whatever happens indoors is going to contribute quite a bit to your exposure,” said Neal Patwari, Ph.D., associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Patwari is constructing the wireless sensor networks that will be used during the project.

“The devices will monitor what’s going on right around you and send the information so researchers can eventually analyze it. They also may give you immediate feedback so you can take action to limit your exposure.”

Regardless of where the participants go with their air quality monitors, the goal is to build a bevy of data available to the research team, according to Sward.

“All of a sudden, you’ll have this massive amount of data that wasn’t available to researchers before. We will be able to see in near-real time what’s happening to people.

“It’s not the information itself that’s the point of it. It’s how the information flows and it is organized.”

With four years of data collected by the families throughout the state of Utah at our disposal, hopefully the information will flow into a solution for high air quality to match the beautiful landscape in the Wasatch Front.

By: Mike DeVine
Apr 25, 2016 9:00 AM


Author: Mike DeVine

Writer and Editor. History buff. Doing sports things. Film fan. University of Wisconsin-Madison Graduate [B.A. English '06]. @UWAlumni Lifetime Member.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: