A potential breakthrough treatment for asthma sufferers has been unveiled by British scientists.
Researchers have found that treating severely affected patients with bronchial thermoplasty, or specially-heated air fed into the lungs, leads to ‘significant’ improvements.
During a year-long global trial, sufferers involved showed a decrease in asthma attacks, a marked increase in days with no asthma symptoms, and a reduction in rescue medication use.
They also exhibited a general improvement in asthma-related quality of life.
More than 112 patients in four countries took part in the trial, which was led by a team from Glasgow University.
It monitored their asthma attacks, daily lung function, and rescue medication use over 12 months.
Treated patients experienced around 10 fewer asthma attacks per year, were free of their asthma symptoms an average of 86 additional days per year, and required significantly less rescue medication, doctors said.
Immediately after the trial finished, researchers found the patients reverted to their previous levels of breathlessness, wheezing and coughing.
The research was led by Glasgow University’s professor of respiratory medicine, Neil Thomson, at the city’s Gartnavel General hospital.
His findings are published today in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.
Prof Thomson said: ‘These findings are very encouraging and are consistent with earlier trial results on bronchial thermoplasty.
‘These results make us hopeful that bronchial thermoplasty may be a new option for patients with severe asthma who have symptoms despite use of current drug therapies.’
Asthma is one of the world’s most common diseases, and causes airways to the lungs to tighten.
There are an estimated 5.2 million people in the UK receiving treatment for the condition, which is traditionally treated with inhalers.
Bronchial thermoplasty, which has been researched for the past few years, delivers thermal energy to the lungs’ airway walls, to reduce the tissue that contributes to airway constriction.
It is performed under light sedation via a tube that runs through a patient’s nose or mouth and into their lungs.
The procedure is completed in three treatment sessions, each lasting less than one hour and spaced apart by about three weeks, with patients allowed home on the same day.
AUSTRALIAN scientists are leading a worldwide trial to develop a vaccine for childhood asthma and allergies.
The trial, based at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in Perth, will involve 200 children from Perth, Melbourne and New York, who will be given a daily dose of of drops consisting of dust mite, grass and cat allergens.
The Herald Sun understands the Melbourne section of the trial will be based at the Royal Children’s Hospital.
It will later be expanded into Germany and Sweden.
The method is the same as that used in desensitisation programs for current asthma suffers, where small doses of asthma-causing allergens are administered to prevent further disease.
The difference is the new trial will involve children who do not have asthma, but who are at high risk of developing the condition because of their family history.
TICHR Head of Clinical Sciences Professor Peter Sly said the trail would involve children aged 18-30 months.
The children will be treated with the drops for 12 months and monitored for up to five years.
“The basis of treatment is the fact that we know their immune systems are immature at that age and the immune system learns from exposure to the environment things that are dangerous that it needs to fight and things that aren’t dangerous that it can ignore,” he said.
“People that develop asthma and allergies, their immune system has switched off
the mechanism that recognises the difference.
“By exposing them we hope to switch on their immune system and teach it to ignore (the asthma and allergy symptoms).”
At the age of six, 40 per cent of children have developed asthma and allergies.
Prof Sly said if the trial were successful it would offer hope to parents whose children had a high risk of developing asthma and allergies. “It’s a prevention strategy,” he said.
“This is for the future, to change the nature of asthma in the future.
“If we can prevent allergies happening we can stop future generations having so many children affected by asthma.”
Italian researchers have made a key breakthrough in the study of the causes of asthma in children .
Rome researchers have found that nerve growth factor (NGF) plays a key role in making children susceptible to the disease .
Asthma experts from Rome’s Universita Cattolica and the National Research Council (CNR) worked with a team from Miami University to gauge NGF levels in newborn children .
They found that NGF was very high in children that developed a common respiratory illness called bronchiolitis .
The disease affects the tiny airways, called bronchioles, that lead to the lungs. As these become inflamed, they swell and fill with mucus, making it difficult for the child to breathe .
Bronchiolitis is a mild illness that usually retreats after two years of age but in some cases it can lead to full-blown asthma, affecting children as old as ten .
Asthma is a chronic lung condition, characterized by wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and chest tightness .
There is a general trend of increased deaths and hospitalizations from asthma in all the industrialized countries of the world .
The causes of the link between broncholitis and asthma have hitherto been unknown. “We knew there was a link between the two and decided to try to find the substance that caused it,” said Luca Tortorolo of the Universita’ Cattolica .
“Elevated levels of NGF appear to predispose children to develop the longer-lasting condition,” he said .
Luigi Aloe of CNR’s Neurobiology Institute said “NGF is stimulated by inflammation processes caused by the infection. What we have discovered is that it appear to alter the development of the respiratory system over the course of time, affecting the neuro-immuno response for many years later” .
He said NGF appeared to act on nerve cells and cells in the immune system, confirming findings made with laboratory animals .
The Italian-American study hs been published in the prestigious American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. NGF was discovered in the 1950s by Italian researcher Rita Levi Montalcini .
She won the 1986 Nobel Prize in Medicine for her work .
A natural relaxant that opens the airways may offer a new treatment for asthma, researchers have said.
The compound, nitrosoglutathione (GSNO), is deficient in people with the condition.
Scientists in the United States found that mice with raised GSNO levels were much less susceptible to asthma than normal animals.
Researcher Dr Jonathan Stamler, from Duke University Medical Centre in Durham, said: “In thinking about asthma, scientists have generally focused on processes that actively constrict airways or lead to inflammation, making it difficult to get air in or out.
“We haven’t paid much attention to how airways are normally kept open. Our findings suggest the disease may stem from a deficit in the natural bronchodilator that normally relaxes airways.”
Drugs that increase GSNO levels could offer a new approach to treating the airway obstruction in asthma, the researchers reported in the journal Science.
Dr Loretta Que, another member of the team, said: “The mice closely resemble the human condition, which makes this particularly exciting as a potential new approach toward asthma therapy.”
GSNO is a molecule in the nitric oxide (NO) family. Previous research has suggested that NO might play a role in regulating the dilation of the airways.
The exhaled breath of asthma patients contains elevated levels of nitric oxide.
Recent evidence from the Duke group indicated that a family of NO-carrying molecules called S-nitrosothiols (SNOs) might be necessary for nitric oxide to function throughout the body.