Study Offers New Hope for Asthma Sufferers

A new study supported by the EU-funded AIRPROM project has raised the prospect of a new treatment for asthma, a condition which afflicts 10 million people in Europe under the age of 45.

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According to the European Lung Foundation, adult asthma causes on-going symptoms of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness and coughing. These symptoms can occur any time, but particularly at night or in the early morning.

Adults with asthma can display a wide range of these symptoms, with different levels of severity. Sometimes symptoms can worsen over hours or minutes, leading to a severe restriction of airways. This is usually only relieved by extra medication, or in severe cases, hospitalisation. Three adults die every day as a result of asthma attacks and research has shown that two thirds of deaths by asthma attack are preventable. From a financial viewpoint, airways disease, including asthma, costs the European Union in excess of EUR 56 billion per annum.

Now, a study published in the ‘Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology’ carried out by an international team led from the University of Leicester, UK, has described a breakthrough in the cause of airway narrowing. For the first time, the team discovered that an active form of a key protein, HMGB1, is increased and related to narrowing of the airway in people with severe asthma.

In particular, the study was carried out on mucous and airway muscle samples gathered from people with mild to moderate asthma, severe asthma and healthy volunteers recruited from Leicester’s Glenfield Hospital.

‘For a number of people with asthma, particularly severe asthma, treatment is not 100 % effective,’ commented lead author Dr Ruth Saunders. ‘Although a number of new therapies are under investigation for allergy-related asthma, there is still a need for new therapies for asthma that is not related to allergies.’

She continued: ‘We have shown that the amount of HMGB1, a protein that can be released in the airways by cells involved in inflammation or by damaged cells, is increased in the mucous from the airways of people with severe asthma.’ To the team’s knowledge, this is the first study to show a direct effect of HMGB1 on enhancing airway muscle contraction in response to stimuli. They now hope that their findings will lead to improved treatments for people with severe asthma.

The AIRPROM (Airway Disease Predicting Outcomes through Patient Specific Computational Modelling) project ran from March 2011 to June 2016 and its 34-partner consortium was led by the University of Leicester. The project received nearly EUR 12 million in EU funding and it aimed to produce computer and physical models of the whole airway system for people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Source: Based on information from CORDIS.