Saint Louis University

ST. LOUIS -- A $93,000 gift from Google together with a $25,000 award from Saint Louis University’s President’s Research Fund will allow faculty at SLU, Harvard and St. Louis College of Pharmacy to research smart phone and web-based applications and data infrastructure to create an asthma alert messaging system.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 25.7 million Americans currently have asthma. In one study, the average cost for treating an acute asthma attack for one child is estimated at $945 for an ER visit and $8,490 for hospitalization.

Mark Gaynor, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Health Management and Policy at SLU, envisions this tool as an effective way to prevent asthma attacks before they happen, preserving health and saving time and money for patients and health care systems.

“In areas such as St. Louis, which is one of the 10 worst cities in the U.S. for asthma, we see a very high admission rate to the emergency room for this chronic condition. This is a problem because it is filling up the ER with patients who really don’t need to be there,” Gaynor said. “This alert system will allow patients to manage their asthma, giving them the warning they need to avoid conditions that could potentially trigger an asthma attack.”

The alert messaging system will give patients a tool to manage their individual asthma conditions by sending alerts when outdoor conditions have the potential to trigger asthma attacks. Members of the project team from the three institutions are collaborating to give asthma patients a way to track environmental conditions using Google Maps software.

“The goal is to create a system that really senses the environment, makes suggestions based on what it senses and then learns as it goes along,” Gaynor said.

Investigators hope the alert system will be useful in influencing patient behavior. Because patients will be able to update their electronic medical records within the program, they will be able to play a more active role in preventing their own illnesses.

Gaynor said that he will use the Google funding to support the further development of the project and also support two graduate assistants, one at SLU and one at Harvard.

Margo Seltzer, Ph.D., Herchel Smith Professor of Computer Science at Harvard, highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of the study and the opportunity for students from the two universities to work on the project.

“We are bringing together students from public health, medicine, business, and engineering from both undergraduate and graduate populations,” Seltzer said. “The joint project in asthma monitoring and persuasive technology is a wonderful example of the kind of interdisciplinary work that is the hallmark of modern engineering.”

The primary investigators for this study include: Gaynor, Seltzer, David Schneider, M.D., MSPH, professor of family medicine at SLU School of Medicine, Mary Lee Barron, Ph.D., associate professor of nursing at SLU, and Erica Pearce, Pharm. D., assistant professor at St. Louis College of Pharmacy.

Accredited since 1991, Saint Louis University School of Public Health is the only accredited school of public health in Missouri. It is one of 47 fully accredited public health schools in the U.S. and the only accredited Jesuit or Catholic school in the nation.