Clemson University and Greenville Health System researcher awarded grant to investigate link between secondhand smoke and disease in children
The American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) recently awarded more than $24,000 in grant monies to Dr. Ransome Eke, an embedded scientist in pediatrics research and academics with Clemson University and the Greenville Health System. Eke will use the grant funds to study the link between secondhand smoke and Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE), a chronic allergic disease of the esophagus, in children.
According to Eke, research has proven a strong link between allergy conditions and EoE, and the disease has triggering effects similar to asthma. Secondhand smoke increases the risk for allergic conditions such as asthma, so Eke hopes to find a concrete link between smoking and EoE in pediatric patients.
“There is currently no specific treatment for EoE that has been shown to work effectively,” Eke said. “This is why it is critical to find other avoidable triggers to improve the health of patients.”
The historically negative implications for smoking were not the only motivation for Eke’s pursuit of the ACG grant. According to recent reports from the U.S. surgeon general, 60 percent of children in the U.S. are exposed to secondhand smoke, and many of those children are reported to have allergic conditions.
Eke hopes to build on the research of his clinical mentor, Dr. Jonathan Markowitz, a professor of pediatrics at Greenville Children’s Hospital who has extensive experience in pediatric gastroenterology and EoE. Eke will work with Markowitz and Dr. Joel Williams, associate professor of public health at Clemson University and Eke’s research mentor. Eke said the response from parents approached to participate in the study has been positive.
“Because this research is focused on pediatric patients, the parents are a necessary and important part of the process,” Eke said. “So far parents are happy to be involved in their child’s treatment.”
The study will be longitudinal and patients’ evaluations will repeat every quarter for one year. The study will recruit 37 of the 250 children diagnosed with EoE in Greenville Health System. The research team will use a validated questionnaire designed for children and parents that solicits information regarding frequency and severity of issues related to EoE. It will also employ esophageal biopsies and other tests to measure patients’ response to treatment.
Eke said receiving the grant is a proud moment for both Clemson University and the Greenville Health System. He said the ACG review board does not automatically award the Smaller Programs Clinical Research Award every year, and he suspects ACG is supporting it because of what it could mean in the long term for pediatric patients with EoE.
“It’s all about improving the quality of life for these kids,” Eke said. “If our hypothesis is true, the next step will involve designing and implementing interventions to reduce or eliminate secondhand smoke exposure.”