Research Projects


Diesel exhaust and asthma

We are undertaking three experiments that are designed to learn more about how diesel exhaust irritates the lung and produces asthma exacerbations. All tests have been completed for the first and second experiments and we are currently in the process of analyzing the data. The third experiment, involving diesel exhaust, particle filtration and allergens, is now in progress. If you would like to participate in this project, click here.

DE1 Data Availability
(click image for larger view)

DE2 Data Availability (click image for larger view)


Diesel exhaust and exercise

The goal of this research project is to learn more about how the effects of diesel exhaust on the carsdiovascular and respiratory system are altered by exercise, and in particular different exercise intensities.  The project, which is lead by researchers from UBC’s School of Human Kinetics, will involve asking research participants to cycle on a stationary bicycle while breathing either clean air or air containing diesel exhaust.  


Effects of Exposure to Air Pollution on Cognition (EAPOC)

The goal of this research is to examine the effects of diesel exhaust on cognitive function. To do so, subjects take a computerized test (CANTAB) that assesses cognition, and undergo a functional MRI (a scan of the brain that looks for changes in activity), both before and after exposure to diesel exhaust and filtered air, respectively. We expect subtle, temporary changes in these tests that only occur with diesel exhaust, and that disappear by the following day. The pilot phase of EAPOC has been completed, and the full study funded by Health Canada, is now in progress. If you would like to participate in this study, click here.


dog baby

Canadian Asthma Primary Prevention Study (CAPPS)

The goal of this study was to investigate whether changes environmental interventions could prevent the onset of asthma in young children.  The randomized control study was launched in the early 1990s by Drs. Moira Chan-Yeung and Allan Becker, and followed over 500 infants from Vancouver and Winnipeg who were at high risk of developing asthma (based on a history of asthma among their relatives).  To learn more about the study methodology and results, click here.



Worker's Perception to Diesel Exhaust

The purpose of this research is to learn more about what workers who are exposed to diesel exhaust at the workplace know about the exposures, associated health effects, and mitigation strategies relating to diesel exhaust.  A better understanding of what the workers know will help us identify knowledge gaps and misperceptions about exposure to diesel exhaust, determine societal and organization factors that influence how knowledge is transferred in an occupational context, and to determine more useful channels or pathways for health risk communication.



Red Cedar Asthma Recovery Study (RCAR)

The goal of this study is to better understand the biological factors that cause persistent and severe Western Red Cedar Asthma (WRCA).  WRCA is asthma that is due to exposure to Western red cedar dust, typically in sawmills.  This study continues work that was started in the 1970s and will add to our understanding of the risk factors for WRCA, and why it can be such a persistent and severe condition.  To learn more about this study, please visit the RCAR website.


Cedar Asthma Sputum Markers (CASM) Study

The goal of this study is to investigate ways to improve diagnostic processes for Western red cedar asthma, an occupational lung disease that can be challenging to diagnose.  This study will be examining asthma patients whose condition may be suspected to have been caused by exposure to Western red cedar. 



grain elevator

Grain Study

Exposure to grain dust, a complex heterogenous substance, gives rise to a number of complicated health issues, the most common being asthma like symptoms and skin and mucous membrane irritation. For more than 20 years, we have been investigating the health of workers exposed to grain dust in the 6 grain elevators located in British Columbia (5 located in the Port of Vancouver and 1 elevator in Prince Rupert). Results of the 10 phases of the study conducted over the past 20 years confirm the importance of reducing the allowable levels of grain dust a worker can be exposed to during an 8-hour shift.   

For more information about recent results from this research, please see:

Biomarkers of airway acidity and oxidative stress in exhaled breath condensate from grain workers
Do R, Bartlett KH, Dimich-Ward H, Chu W, Kennedy SM. (2008). Am J Respir Crit Care Med. Nov 15; 178(10): 1048-54.


Woodstove Exchange Study (WEST)

This series of linked projects assesses the impacts of a woodstove exchange program in the Bulkley Valley Lakes District (located in the northern interior of British Columbia).  We are examining the impact of the stove exchange on community air quality and investigating the potential improvements in health arising from the change to certified wood stoves.

To learn more about this study, please visit the  WEST website.

You are also encouraged to visit the CLEAR Study at Simon Fraser University. Note: It is password protected (username: clearstudy; password: website).

The Traffic pollution, Asthma, Genetics (TAG) Study

Although air pollution is well-known to exacerbate existing asthma, a number of recent studies have suggested that exposure to traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) specifically, is linked to the development of new cases of asthma in children. The study's main goal is to assess whether exposure to TRAP interacts with a person’s genetic profile, thereby impacting the risk of childhood asthma development. To learn more about this study, click here.


Genetics and Public Health

Our work considers the complex implications of developments in our understanding of genetics genomics on public health.  Clearly family history alone is informative but of limited value (2). But even specific genetic differences, alone, do not generally confer a large degree of risk for complex disorders (3). We are hopeful that genetic knowledge can improve our understanding and preventive approach to priorities of public health. There is reason for caution (4) but we believe that a thoughtful approach, particularly cognizant of the potential benefits of considering gene-by-environment interaction in the appropriate context with appropriate foresight, can yield great benefit.

In our controlled studies of diesel exhaust and Western red cedar asthma, and in our epidemiological studies of children at risk fir asthma, we incorporate DNA and gene expression data on all consenting participants. Our belief is that understanding the interaction between exposure and genetics ("gene-by-environment interactions") will help us better appreciate the mechanisms by which such exposures are toxic, thereby help direct and enforce our public health efforts.

1 Personalized medicine and tobacco-related health disparities: is there a role for genetics?
  Annals of Family Medicine. Carlsten C, Halperin A, Crouch J, Burke W. 2011 Jul-Aug.
2 Family History as a Predictor of Asthma Risk
  Burke W, Fesinmeyer M, Reed K, Hampson L, Carlsten C. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2003;24:160-9.
3 Glutathione S-Transferase M1 (GSTM1) and lung cancer: HuGE review and meta-analysis.
  Carlsten C, Sagoo GS, Frodsham AJ, Burke W, Higgins JPT. Am J Epidemiol. 2008 Apr 1;167(7):759.
4 Potential for Genetics to Promote Public Health: Genetic Research on Smoking Suggests Caution About Expectations
  Carlsten C, Burke W. JAMA 2006;296:2480-8

Currently in development is our paper:

Efficient Translation of Genomic Medicine: Context Matters.
Chris Carlsten, Wylie Burke.

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