MPH student Kate Klein talked with Dr. Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine’s Center for Healthcare Studies and the Ann and Robert H Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago to learn more about her current research, and what she has in store for the future.
KK: Tell me a little about the projects you are working on right now…
RG: With our asthma research, we work in the community schools. The goal of our project is to empower kids with asthma to understand their own asthma better and, ultimately, control their own health. In Chicago, 22% of African American children have asthma. But this number varies by what neighborhood you live in. There can be big differences even with neighborhoods that are next to each other. For example, a neighborhood with 2% asthma could be next to a neighborhood with 40% asthma. In our projects, the kids take pictures in their community and develop messages about how the community can best help them. Then they develop an intervention to make improvements in their community. Right now, we are in the Beasley Elementary School on Chicago’s South Side working with 7th and 8th graders.
There are many things I’m working on in the area of food allergies.
First we work to improve management of food allergy by pediatricians. With NIH funding, we are developing a food allergy clinical decision support tool for pediatricians. We are simplifying the new guidelines into EPIC to help physicians diagnose and mange food allergy better.
We are starting a research study looking at the natural history of food allergy. We will prospectively follow kids over time to learn more about the life cycle of allergies. We want to better understand how kids live with food allergies, who grows out of the allergies and who doesn’t, so we can better characterize food allergy and determine predictors for tolerance.
We conduct multiple epidemiologic studies around food allergy. We found I in 13 kids have food allergy and that food allergy costs 24.8 billion in the US. We also recently found food allergy hospital visits have been increasing 29% on average for the past 5 years. , We are working on a study that aims to understand food allergies around the world; in addition to the U.S., we are finding an increase in food allergies in Canada and European countries. We are also studying parent quality of life and empowerment issues.
We recently looked at empowerment and quality of life in mothers and fathers. What we found was that the more empowered a parent is to help their kids with allergies, the lower the quality of life they have. Usually mothers are the ones that bear the burden of caring for children with allergies. There is a huge anxiety for parents when leaving their children in others’ care because if they accidentally ate the allergenic food, it could cause a severe life threatening reaction.. Conversely we found that fathers have lower empowerment but had a high quality of life compared to mothers.
KK: How did you get to this topic area – what was the route that brought you here?
RG: I am a pediatrician and trained at the University of Washington, which happened to be a strong health services research center. In Seattle, I saw so many children come in with poorly managed asthma and this was frustrating because we have excellent treatments. Asthma should not cause missed school days, exacerbations leading to hospital visits, etc. This is how I became interested in improving asthma management. After residency I wanted to have a research career so I did a research fellowship at Boston Children’s and received an MPH from Harvard. Ten years ago I came to Northwestern and during my first year I met a family with two severely food allergic children. They were so passionate about understanding food allergies and they wanted more research in this area. After looking through the literature I realized there was a huge gap in knowledge and that I could have some impact in this area. A couple years later, I had my own daughter and she was diagnosed with food allergy, which made the topic even more personal to me. Now I live what I had been researching and I am passionate about improving knowledge around food allergy and looking for a treatment. In addition to talks for physicians, I regularly talk to families because I can convey the research and relate to them.
KK: Why is this an important area of research?
RG: Food allergy impact one in thirteen children these days. Food allergies can cause severe reaction, even death, but accidentally ingesting a small amount of the allergenic food. It is difficult for these kids to be at social settings involving food. Very little is known about food allergies compared to other conditions. Much more research and research funding is needed to understand the reasons for the increase and find a treatment.
KK: Who are you working with (both internally and externally – individuals, organizations, and sponsors)?
RG: Internally we have a great group of researchers in the Allergy Division at Northwestern and at Lurie Children’s Hospital. Recently, we’ve been building a consortium with practicing allergists to conduct studies in and enroll families in their clinics. We also collaborate nationally with Stanford, Michigan, Hopkins, Harvard and Mount Sinai. We have started also collaborating internationally.
KK: Do you have any future projects planned?
RG: I would love to expand our work in improving childhood asthma and asthma disparities. We particularly love working in the community. Recently, we wrote a grant to work with Federally Qualified Health Centers and Chicago Public Schools to improve care and management of asthma for underserved children.
For food allergies we were awarded a grant to build a registry of food allergies. With this registry we can build a better understanding of food allergy reactions. We hope to expand this nationally once developed.
Also, finding a treatment for food allergy is essential. We are working with practices to better understand outcomes of treatments as well as predictors for children who would be good candidates for a treatment.
We are also interested in understanding the natural history of food allergy and are planning on following patients over time to understand predictors for growing out of a food allergy and reaction trends.
KK: Are you interested in collaborating with others on these projects? If so, along what lines and how should people reach out if they are interested?
RG: I would welcome anyone who would want to work in the areas of childhood allergies and asthma. We encourage researchers and students to work with us as we welcome new ideas and additional investigators in these fields.
Those who are interested can reach Dr. Gupta at email@example.com.
Also check her website at: http://www.ruchigupta.com/