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Researcher turns to crowdfunding to support clinical trials of child asthma medication

Professor Toshio Katsunuma shows his crowdfunding website on his laptop at Jikei University in Tokyo's Minato Ward, on Dec. 13, 2017. (Mainichi)

As a researcher's clinical trials testing if the amount of asthma medication for small children can be lowered has run into a barrier as a government grant for the project has ended, the academic is turning to internet crowdfunding for monetary support.

    One in 20 children between the ages of 1 and 4 has infant asthma, and the general treatment for the condition is a steroid inhaler. Professor Toshio Katsunuma, 58, of Jikei University No. 3 Hospital's pediatrics department has been receiving research funds from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare since fiscal 2014. In his work, he compares children with asthma who take a 50 microgram dose of the inhaled steroids once in the morning and once at night every day and those who only take it when they need it, like when they have caught a cold, with one of the two groups taking the real medicine and the other taking a placebo.

    A 2011 research paper suggested that even for children who did not take the steroids every day, the effect of the medicine did not change. If he can follow up the claim with clear results, both the burden on caretakers and medical costs could decrease, and worries about side effects such as stunted growth could be lessened as well.

    However, the number of children he could study up until the grant deadline in March of this year stalled at only 82 -- nowhere near the 500 participants he had imagined in the planning stage. Because the government grant period has expired, Katsunuma changed his goal to 300 participants, and is now using online crowdfunding to collect the 10 million yen he needs for his research over the next year. As of Dec. 26, 2017, Katsunuma had collected roughly 4.16 million yen. If he cannot reach his funding goal by Jan. 31, 2018, he will return all donations made.

    Katsunuma came to feel the burden of caring for those with asthma when he became the caretaker of his two sons, the younger with asthma, after his wife passed away in 2005. "It will take about four to five years to complete my research, but first I would like to continue for the next year," he said. "If I stop now, the cooperation of the 82 subjects so far goes to waste."

    His crowdfunding website can be accessed at http://readyfor.jp/projects/difto (in Japanese).

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