Approximately 3 years ago at a symposium sponsored by the European Respiratory Society (ERS) in Vienna, the lack of consensus regarding the topic of asthma control was highlighted, D. Robin Taylor, MD, University of Otago department of medicine, Dunedin, New Zealand, told RT. In particular, he adds, the methods used in clinical trials to assess asthma control varied widely and lacked cohesion despite the increasing recognition of the importance of controlling asthma exacerbations and a better understanding of how to manage the disease.

To address this lack of consensus, the ERS in collaboration with The American Thoracic Society (ATS) Assembly on Asthma, Immunology, and Inflammation (AII) has undertaken a daunting task: to standardize the definition of asthma control.

There are seven working groups that will look at various aspects of asthma control, including definition of exacerbations, symptoms, lung function, airway inflammation, and use of health care resources, among them. The task force, cochaired by Taylor and Helen Reddel, MD, Woolcock Institute of Respiratory Research, Sydney, Australia, will determine which of these is the most important and how each dimension should be measured.

Asthma control is a phrase frequently used in scientific papers, particularly those evaluating treatment interventions for asthma, says Taylor. Until recently, he adds, it has not been defined, and there is a wide range of interpretations. The task force aims to remedy that problem within the next 3 to 4 months, and a final report will be submitted to the scientific committees of both the ERS and the ATS, says Taylor. “We hope this will result in a publication sometime in mid-2007,” he adds.

The seven working groups will present their recommendations at the 2007 ATS International Conference in San Francisco, with individual papers that will most likely be published in the Proceedings of  the ATS. One of these, the definition of asthma exacerbations for purposes of clinical trials, is of particular significance, according to Taylor.

The Assembly on AII is helping asthma care providers in other ways—one of which is the Virtual Asthma Center, which will contain peer-reviewed links to online asthma-related materials. This is not one of your ordinary asthma-related sites, which abound on the Internet. Much of the information contained on those sites is not peer reviewed or well organized. The goal of the Assembly on AII, says project chair John Mastronarde, MD, is to create a single, easy-to-navigate site with links to peer-reviewed resources on the Web for asthma care providers looking for materials such as treatment guidelines or patient information. Eventually, says Mastronarde, the site will include patient education information, case submissions, and trainee resources. Look for the site to be up and running by the end of this year.

The efforts ATS is putting toward understanding and treating asthma as the asthma rate soars worldwide will go a long way to add to the armamentarium of knowledge clinicians need to get a handle on asthma. You can learn more at, and don’t forget to check out RT’s Web site,, for articles on the diagnosis and treatment of asthma.