Dr. William C. Bailey, Chair of the ACRC Steering Committee

Dr. Bailey is currently Professor of Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Lung Health Center where he holds the Eminent Scholar Chair in Pulmonary Disease. In a recent interview, Dr. Bailey shared some of his thoughts and memories of the ACRC.

Q: How did you first become associated with the ACRC?
A: I began my career in pulmonary medicine and my association with the American Lung Association in the mid-1960s. At that time, tuberculosis was a major threat to lung health and I was part of a team to develop a system for outpatient care for tuberculosis patients. During this time, I began to notice that asthma was very common in my practice and that it frequently occurred in my younger patients. I, also, observed that asthma could be treated effectively and patients' functioning could be fully restored if they complied with treatment advice. However, compliance varied by patient and I began conducting research to identify ways to encourage them to take their medications as prescribed so that their functioning could be maintained.

When the Lung Association requested applications for their new ACRC, my site at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) was fortunate to be one of the few chosen. Although UAB is no longer an ACRC site, I am proud to say that I have mentored other investigators including one who has also become a Center Director of another ACRC site and, was selected as the Chairman of the ACRC in 2009.

Q. Why is the ACRC unique in the field of asthma research?

A: There are two major sources of funding for lung health research: the pharmaceutical industry and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The pharmaceutical companies focus on the safety and efficacy of specific drugs while the NIH focuses on complex, basic research and clinical research often directed toward mechanistic understanding. In contrast, the ACRC examines issues that are important to the everyday practice of medicine. As an example in our first study, the ACRC showed that the influenza vaccine did not trigger asthma attacks and that people with asthma could safely receive the vaccine and be protected against influenza. These results refuted the consensus in pulmonary field at that time, in which some doctors were reluctant to immunize their asthmatic patients due to the fear of triggering an asthma attack.

Q: What makes the ACRC so successful?
A: The core support of the Lung Association is essential for providing seed monies to sponsor the type and quality of research that allows the Network to go out and apply for additional funding from the NIH and the pharmaceutical industry to conduct trials. Due to the number of centers in the ACRC, the Network has a key advantage in conducting studies that require a large number of patients.

The ACRC also allows the best researchers in the field of lung health to gather to discuss which areas of research interests to pursue. ACRC researchers are very compatible and work well together. Brainstorming groups can be as large as 40 to 50 people or as small as 4 or 5 people. Either way, the research topics identified are well thought through and include all points of view.

Lastly, we have an exceptional Coordinating Center located at Johns Hopkins and led by Dr. Bob Wise. Through Dr. Wise's leadership, the Coordinating Center is at the heart of the ACRC, ensuring that studies run smoothly. The Center has a wonderful supporting staff and they get things done.

Q: Having been a primary investigator at the ACRC University of Alabama at Birmingham site and now the Chair of the Network, what are some of your fondest memories?
A: The thing that I have enjoyed the most is getting together with the investigators. These meetings are fun, intellectually challenging, and invigorating. I have made some good friends - you get to know folks well when you meet with them and stay in contact by telephone - they become part of your life. The best thing about the ACRC is doing research that makes a difference in the practice of medicine.

Q: What do you see in the future for the ACRC?
A: The ACRC is one of the most successful, if not the most successful, lung health research network. The Network now receives funding from the NIH and the pharmaceutical companies in addition to funding from Lung Association donors. Pharmaceutical companies are interested in how asthma medications fit into everyday practice but do not usually do this type of research. It was even used as a model for the NIH Asthma Clinical Trials Network. With its successful track record, the ACRC should be in existence for a long time.