Dr Brad Zhang was awarded a 2012-2014 BrightSpark Fellowship to investigate factors impacting allergy and asthma development in childhood.
His research project proposed to examine the complex interactions between genetic, environmental and epigenetic determinants of asthma. He has extensive experience in asthma genetics and environmental health, as well as biostatistics, for investigating complex gene-environment interactions.
Throughout his BrightSpark Fellowship, Dr Zhang sought to understand the impact of vitamin D deficiency on asthma. Using a mouse model, he demonstrated that allergic sensitisation is increased by vitamin D deficiency. This means that allergen-specific immune cells are hyperactive in the absence of vitamin D. Additionally, Dr Zhang observed that the extent of inflammation in the lungs was enhanced in vitamin D-deficient male mice, but not female mice. This is congruent with existing research by the Raine Study, an unselected community-based cohort of 1400 children, which observed children with inadequate vitamin D, particularly males, were at increased risk of developing asthma (Hollams et al., 2011). Dr Zhang’s mouse model thus reproduced these human observations and allowed for investigation of the underlying mechanisms, as well as possible interventions.
Indeed, Dr Zhang observed that vitamin D controlled the levels of bacteria in the lungs of male mice, which could be what was driving the observed inflammatory response. His research demonstrated that some aspects of allergic disease, including inflammation and allergic sensitisation are enhanced by vitamin D deficiency, and can be treated by vitamin D supplementation.
Following the conclusion of his BrightSpark Fellowship in 2014, Dr Zhang has gone on to secure local and national funding, including NHMRC project grants. He is now an Associate Professor in the School of Public Health at Curtin University and holds adjunct/honorary positions at The University of Western Australia and Telethon Kids Institute, respectively. He has established a research laboratory, which continues to grow, and has a main focus on the investigation of environmental, genetic and epigenetic factors on the development of asthma and allergies in childhood. For more information about Dr Zhang’s research and career, please visit his university profile: https://staffportal.curtin.edu.au/staff/profile/view/brad-zhang-2386b8fa/