UA's Dr. Fernando Martinez awarded $4.5 million by NIH to continue landmark study on childhood origins of adult airway disease

The University of Arizona’s Dr. Fernando Martinez, MD, will continue his groundbreaking asthma research after being awarded $4.5 million for four more years by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to further investigate the childhood origins of adult airway disease. He will lead the Tucson Children’s Respiratory Study, with Anne Wright, PhD, and Stefano Guerra, MD, PhD, as co-principal investigators.

Dr. Martinez, Regents’ Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Arizona (UA) College of Medicine and the Director of the UA’s BIO5 Institute (BIO5), the Arizona Respiratory Center (ARC), and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), is internationally renowned for his work studying the genetic basis and environmental risk factors for childhood asthma, the most prevalent chronic childhood illness.  

The Children's Respiratory Study (CRS) is the first large birth cohort of non-selected children followed into adult life. Over 1,200 infants were enrolled at birth and have been followed for 30-years. It has become clear that the seeds of many adult diseases are sown in childhood. The objective of the new project is to identify infant and childhood predictors of chronic adult asthma, smoking related symptoms, deficits in lung function, and altered airway structure, all of which are associated with risk for development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The early 30’s is a critical age at which its important to assess respiratory health as aging-associated lung function decline begins and the first clinical manifestations of COPD appear. Understanding the childhood origins of adult airway disease will identify novel mechanisms underlying the development of asthma and chronic airflow limitation, and suggest strategies for intervention.

“It’s crucial to better understand the biological causes of the current asthma epidemic in order to develop new approaches to treatment and prevention,” said Dr. Martinez. “This new phase of research will focus on identifying childhood predictors of asthma incidence, remission, and persistence into adult life, which will advance efforts to identify novel strategies for prevention and early intervention in asthma and COPD.” 

Dr. Martinez is a world-class, practicing physician-scientist who has his own laboratory, in addition to leading three collaborative research centers at the UA. “Finding the links between genetic disposition and environmental triggers make the pairing of clinical practice and research all the more important,” Martinez said. “The beauty of facilities like the BIO5 Institute and the Arizona Respiratory Center, is that you are able to walk down the hall and have discussions with colleagues from a variety of fields to come up with ideas and protocols to address both scientific and clinical questions. Only a handful of universities in the United States have this degree of the collaborative environment and facilities needed to succeed in developing better therapies and a more personalized approach to treating adult airway disease”.

Other collaborators on this grant are Drs. Dean Billheimer, Marilyn Halonen, Wayne Morgan, and Eric Snyder.

About the BIO5 Institute

The BIO5 Institute at the University of Arizona mobilizes top researchers in five disciplines—agriculture, engineering, medicine, pharmacy, and science—to find creative, collaborative solutions to humanity’s most pressing health and environmental challenges. Since 2001, its multidisciplinary approach has been an international model of how to conduct collaborative research and has resulted in improved food crops, innovative diagnostic devices, and promising new therapies. In addition, BIO5 supports the next generation of scientists through its science education, outreach and training programs throughout Arizona. Importantly, BIO5 also plays a vital role in impacting Southern Arizona’s economy though jobs and funding. Learn more at

About the Arizona Respiratory Center

The Arizona Respiratory Center was designated the first Center of Excellence at the UA College of Medicine in 1971. Today, the internationally known Center combines the highest caliber of research, clinical care and teaching. The interdisciplinary Center is recognized as one of the top institutions for respiratory care. Learn more at