Researcher examining new link between obesity and asthma

An early-career scientist from The University of Western Australia who is analysing the connection between obesity and asthma was selected to present her research at the 2021 FameLab Western Australia semi-final.

The competition invites Australia’s brightest minds to discuss their STEM-focused research in three minutes or less.

Third-year PhD student Carolyn Wang, from UWA’s School of Human Sciences, said her research aimed to determine how obesity affects asthma, with a focus on examining fat within the airway walls.

“I hope to explain how airway fat contributes to the development and exacerbation of asthma, particularly in the context of airway disease.”

Carolyn Wang

“Our research group has discovered that this airway fat has the potential to accumulate in overweight and obese patients,” Ms Wang said.

“My project involves characterising this fat to understand its role within the airways and determine if it has any effect on the structure or function of the lungs.”

Despite there being a well-established relationship between obesity and asthma, the underlying mechanisms that cause the link are not well understood.

“I hope to explain how airway fat contributes to the development and exacerbation of asthma, particularly in the context of airway disease,” Ms Wang said.

According to the research team, both obesity and asthma are growing public health concerns, especially because asthmatic people who are also obese experience more severe asthma symptoms and are less responsive to current therapy.

“If airway fat is proven to contribute towards airway disease, treatments could be optimised to target this, which would improve clinical outcomes and quality of life for patients who are both asthmatic and obese.”

After completing her Bachelor of Science (Honours), Ms Wang joined the Airway Physiological Research Laboratory, which sparked her fascination to learn more about how the lungs work in both health and disease.

“I’ve always had an interest in respiratory research and metabolic health, so this project was the perfect marriage between the two,” she said.

“I am extremely fortunate to be working with such a dynamic and supportive team, who have encouraged me every step of the way and make it easy for me to enjoy what I do.”

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