Michelle Hernandez, MD

Director, N.C. Child Health Research Network Associate Medical Director, N.C. Children’s Allergy and Asthma Center Associate Director of Clinical Research, Children's Research Institute Associate Professor, Pediatric Allergy, Immunology and Rheumatology

Dr. Hernandez is a pediatric allergist and immunologist whose research interests include asthma and the development of novel therapeutics for difficult-to-control asthma in children and teenagers, including effective interventions that can target environmentally induced inflammation to prevent disease in susceptible populations.

Her research group has shown that people with allergic asthma have an exaggerated airway innate immune inflammatory response to ozone (O3) compared to people without asthma. They have also demonstrated that increased Body Mass Index is positively associated with increased airway and systemic inflammation after O3, regardless of asthma status. As a result of a lack of information of the specific biological pathways through which O3, the most ubiquitous of all air pollutants, exerts adverse health effects, there are currently no therapies for disease prevention. The current strategy to prevent inflammation after O3 exposure is to promote avoidance.

Her long-term research objectives include 1) Understanding how inhaled pollutants cause a spectrum of inflammatory responses (both respiratory and systemic) and consequent disease; 2) Identifying those at highest risk and 3) Designing focused, safe, and pragmatic interventions to mitigate these complications. Her lab has specifically focused on targeting neutrophilic airway inflammation, a shared characteristic of pollutant-induced inflammation, through IL-1 blockade with anakinra and through antioxidant interventions. In early phase clinical studies, they have successfully used these interventions to mitigate pollutant-induced inflammation in adult volunteers using controlled chamber exposure studies in collaboration with the US Environmental Protection Agency.

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