This year’s BRIght Futures Prize finalists are pursuing forward-thinking and inventive research to improve patient care. Each of the three finalists hopes to receive the $100,000 BRIght Futures Prize, which will be awarded at Discover Brigham on Oct. 7. Read about their work below, and vote for your choice.

Fanta_crop1Christopher Fanta, MD, Pulmonary Division

What is your research project about?

More than 25 million Americans, both children and adults, have asthma, and an estimated 300 million people are affected worldwide. When patients experience an asthma “attack,” their bronchial—or breathing—tubes are constricted by surrounding muscles and become inflamed and filled with mucus, causing these passageways to severely narrow. Nearly 2 million times each year in the U.S., people with asthma are rushed to a nearby emergency department, often desperate for lack of air and at risk for progression of their illness to the point of a life-threatening lack of oxygen.

But asthma attacks generally do not come on suddenly. Typically, they evolve over several hours or even days, with the opportunity to intervene and prevent severe and frightening attacks—if only patients could first recognize that their breathing is becoming impaired, and then take action to prevent their symptoms from escalating. We are developing a novel system that will help people with asthma detect the worsening of their breathing and guide them to early and effective interventions that protect them from dangerous asthma attacks.

What is a compelling aspect of your research project?

We are developing a smartphone application that will alert people with asthma that their breathing is deteriorating and suggest interventions that can reverse the decline before it becomes severe. Unique features of this application include voice analysis software that can detect changes in lung function based on changes in the pattern and quality of speech; text messaging to people with asthma and to their designated support team of family and friends about worsening symptoms and suggestions for taking action; and the opportunity to communicate this information to their doctor or other health care provider. We envision a portable comprehensive asthma integrated management system (called “AIMSpire”) that can be customized for each user.

How will your research project benefit people?

Asthma attacks have been identified as being among the most common preventable causes of emergency department visits and hospitalizations. Many attacks progress to the point of becoming severe and dangerous because people with asthma may not recognize their early symptoms or because they ignore the warning signals. Integrated into their smartphone, our application will provide them with the information that they need at the time that they need it to prevent severe asthma attacks. The potential benefits are enormous: fewer emergency department visits and hospitalizations for asthma; fewer days missed from work or school; a safety net to alert family and friends if a child or other loved one is having difficulty breathing; an asthma monitoring resource for health care providers, as well as patients; and a tool for patient self-empowerment through the use of modern e-health resources.

or read more about the other BRIght Futures finalists:

Tiny Drones to Target Cancer

Making Blood Treatments Better