Scientists discover a potential long-term treatment for asthma

Scientists discover a potential long-term treatment for asthma
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A groundbreaking finding could revolutionise the future of treatment for asthma and tackle the underlying causes.

Asthma is a common lung condition causing occasional breathing difficulties. It often begins in childhood, but it can develop initially in adults. It is estimated that under 5.5 million in the UK receive treatment for asthma, and around 1,200 people die from this condition annually.

Treatment for asthma usually involves an inhaler – a small device that allows you to breathe in medicines. The two main types of inhalers are reliever inhalers and preventer inhalers; these treatments only cause short-term relief from the associated breathing difficulties. To address how asthma changes the structure of the airway and lungs, researchers from Aston University and Imperial College London set out to develop a long-term treatment.

Eliminating asthmatic symptoms in mice

Lead researcher, Dr Jill Johnson, from Aston University’s School of Biosciences, said: “By targeting the changes in the airway directly, we hope this approach could eventually offer a more permanent and effective treatment than those already available, particularly for severe asthmatics who don’t respond to steroids. However, our work is still at an early stage, and further research is needed before we can begin to test this in people.”

When the researchers tested their approach in mice, asthma symptoms virtually disappeared within two weeks and returned their airways to normal.

They focused on a stem cell known as a pericyte, which is mainly found in the lining of the blood vessels. When asthmatics have an allergic and inflammatory reaction, for example, to dust mites, this causes the pericytes to move to the airway’s walls. Here, the stem cell develops into muscle cells and other cells causing the airway to thicken and become less flexible.

The movements of the pericytes are triggered by a protein called CXCL12. The researchers employed a molecule called LIT-927 to block the signal from the protein by introducing it into the mice’s nasal passages. The researchers uncovered, that in the mice with asthma who were treated with LIT-927, symptoms reduced within one week, and almost all symptoms disappeared within two weeks. The airway walls in the mice treated with the LIT-927 were thinner than those in untreated mice.

Seeking further funding for long-term treatment for asthma

After this innovative discovery, the researchers are seeking further funding to continue their research into dosage and timing. This would help them to determine the optimum times to administer the treatment for asthma, how much of the LIT-927 is needed, and understand the impact on lung function. They believe that if this further research is successful, it will still be several years before the treatment can be tested in people.

The researchers published their findings in Respiratory Medicine.


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