One child in 11 and one adult in 12 in the UK is affected by asthma, for which there is no known cure, and on average three people die every day from asthma attacks.
But research by scientists at the Universities of Leicester and Naples, Italy, has led to a better understanding of what triggers asthma and paved the way for the development of more effective treatments.
During an attack a sufferer’s airways become narrower and irritated, making it difficult to breathe and provoking symptoms such as chest tightness, wheezing, or coughing. Sufferers currently use salbutamol inhalers and steroids to reduce immune response.
The academic study examined the impact and influence of a peptide on the pain receptor nociceptin, which is very active before and during asthma attacks. It found that a single molecule of a nociceptin peptide reduces both the immune response and dilates the airways.
Professor Chris Brightling at Leicester University’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation said: “In spite of good treatments for asthma many people with asthma still have ongoing symptoms and frequent attacks.
“This exciting research presents an entirely new approach for asthma that needs to be tested in clinical trials.”
Professor Bruno D’Agostino from the University of Naples said: “For many years, my research group has been working on the role of nociceptin in the regulation of airway responsiveness in animal models, and it is very interesting translating our results into clinic area regarding asthma, a disease that is forecast to grow over the next years.”
The Head of Research at Asthma UK, Dr Erika Kennington said: “There’s nothing as terrifying as not being able to breathe, yet every 10 seconds someone in the UK has a potentially life threatening asthma attack.
“This research is exciting because the protein identified here may relieve not just the symptoms, but the inflammation of the lungs and the tightening of the airways that cause asthma too.
“We urgently need more investment in asthma research to turn these findings into new treatments.”
The study was published in the British Journal of Pharmacology.