Asthma affects nearly 300 million people worldwide and while it is well controlled in some people, around one-in-twelve patients respond poorly to current treatments. In a major breakthrough that could lead to a cure for asthma within five years, researchers have found that a protein could be at the root of the condition. The study also revealed that a drug originally designed to treat the bone disease osteoporosis could lead to new therapy for asthma.
Published in Science Translational Medicine journal, University researchers, working in collaboration with scientists at King's College London and the Mayo Clinic (USA), describe the previously unproven role of the calcium sensing receptor (CaSR) in causing asthma, a disease which affects 300 million people worldwide.
The researchers found that a protein called calcium-sensing receptor (CaSR) plays an important role in causing asthma. They used mouse models of asthma and human airway tissue from asthmatic and non-asthmatic people to reach the findings. Crucially, the paper highlights the effectiveness of a class of drugs known as calcilytics in manipulating CaSR to reverse all symptoms associated with the condition.
"Our findings are incredibly exciting," said the principal investigator, Professor Daniela Riccardi, from the School of Biosciences. "For the first time we have found a link airways inflammation, which can be caused by environmental triggers - such as allergens, cigarette smoke and car fumes - and airways twitchiness in allergic asthma.
Our paper shows how these triggers release chemicals that activate CaSR in airway tissue and drive asthma symptoms like airway twitchiness, inflammation, and narrowing. Using calcilytics, nebulized directly into the lungs, we show that it is possible to deactivate CaSR and prevent all of these symptoms.
If we can prove that calcilytics are safe when administered directly to the lung in people, then in five years we could be in a position to treat patients and also potentially stop asthma from happening in the first place."
Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Research and Policy at Asthma UK, who helped fund the research, said, "This hugely exciting discovery enables us, for the first time, to tackle the underlying causes of asthma symptoms. Five per cent of people with asthma don't respond to current treatments so research breakthroughs could be life changing for hundreds of thousands of people.
"If this research proves successful we may be just a few years away from a new treatment for asthma, and we urgently need further investment to take it further through clinical trials. Asthma research is chronically underfunded; there have only been a handful of new treatments developed in the last 50 years so the importance of investment in research like this is absolutely essential."
According to Cardiff Professor Paul Kemp, who co-authored the study, the identification of CaSR in airway tissue means that the potential for treatment of other inflammatory lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and chronic bronchitis, for which currently there exists no cure. It is predicted that by 2020 these diseases will be the third biggest killers worldwide.
With inputs from IANS and Cardiff University