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Bonilla secures $2.8 million for UTHSCSA asthma study

San Antonio (Feb. 19, 2003) — U.S. Congressman Henry Bonilla was honored Feb. 19 at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA) for his successful efforts to fund a major asthma disease management study soon to be launched at UTHSCSA. Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., president of the Health Science Center, and Congressman Bonilla announced $2.8 million in U.S. Department of Health and Human Services funding for the asthma study. The funds were made available through the HHS Appropriations bill, which was part of the Omnibus spending bill approved by the House late last week.

Through his membership on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, Congressman Bonilla successfully secured funding for the project. "Congressman Bonilla, you made this study a funding priority from day one, and it was your stature as a member of the Senate-House Conference Committee that ultimately enabled its inclusion in the final legislation," Dr. Cigarroa said. "Getting this project approved was not an easy task by any means, and we are deeply grateful for your effective leadership on behalf of your constituents."

The asthma disease management study will enroll 1,200 children and adults and run through 2007. The purpose is twofold: to improve the health of patients by preventing adverse events related to their asthma and to reduce the health care costs associated with emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

The trial is modeled on a Health Science Center congestive heart failure (CHF) disease management study, launched in 1999, that is expected to conclude this fall. Preliminary results of that trial show that almost-daily disease management interactions with nurse case workers and other health care professionals reduced the death rate among CHF patients by a statistically significant margin. The death rate in patients under disease management was 6.6 percent, compared to 10.9 percent for patients in the control group.

"This money is good news for two reasons: we're going to assist asthma sufferers throughout the state of Texas and we're bringing millions of dollars to the economy of San Antonio," Congressman Bonilla said. "Today is a great day for the UT Health Science Center and for South Texas. I'm proud to have played a role in securing this funding and look forward to the progress it will make."

Dr. Cigarroa said the past month has been a great one for Congressman Bonilla, because in addition to obtaining funding for the asthma study, he was able to secure federal funding for a rail spur that was a crucial factor in the automaker Toyota's decision to locate a major facility in San Antonio.

Dr. Cigarroa, a noted pediatric and transplant surgeon, said the CHF study is a national model and an important development on the medical landscape. "The study results, when they are presented, will change the way people approach treatment of chronic illnesses," he said. "This is certainly true for congestive heart failure, and we expect will be the case for individuals with asthma."

Gregory Freeman, M.D., professor of medicine and chief of cardiology at the Health Science Center, and Stephen Inscore, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics, are the principal investigators. The project director is Autumn Dawn Galbreath, M.D., assistant professor of medicine. "Asthma is a huge issue in South Texas, which leads the country in incidence rates," Dr. Freeman said. "The new trial will be a very similar project and study design to our first study, which enrolled 1,063 patients from a large catchment area of more than 100 counties, extending from San Antonio south to McAllen and Harlingen, east to Corpus Christi, west to El Paso and north to Killeen. We expect final outcomes this fall, and to publish them in a cardiology journal and present them at professional meetings in the field."

More than 40 full-time staff members are employed at the Health Science Center's Disease Management Center. Some receive and document telephone calls from study patients. The center also is conducting a smaller pediatric asthma project funded by the Texas Medicaid office. Thanks in part to impressive leadership on Capitol Hill from Congressman Bonilla, the U.S. Department of Defense provided $17 million for the nearly completed CHF study.

The South Texas Veterans Health Care System, Brooke Army Medical Center, Wilford Hall Medical Center, TRICARE Southwest, the University Health System and other partners provide clinic space and patient referrals for both studies.

"I think the relationship with an available health care provider was what patients found to be beneficial to address the issues that came up between doctor visits," Dr. Galbreath said, commenting on results of the first study. "This gave them someone they could call 24 hours a day, and that was comforting."

The disease management model is in widespread use in the medical community, typically in a managed care setting. It is not typically available to Medicare or Medicaid beneficiaries or to those who have veterans or military benefits. The goal of the studies is to demonstrate the health benefits for patients in these groups and to demonstrate that effective disease management can be provided to these patients in geographically widespread areas at low cost to these agencies.

The asthma study center will employ 45 people and is expected to bring $16.6 million to San Antonio over the next four years.

Contact: Will Sansom or Aileen Salinas