New hope for asthma sufferers as scientists find gene that triggers condition

  • Researchers hope findings will lead to better treatments for the disease
  • Condition affects 5.4million Britons and caused 1,143 deaths in 2010
  • New research welcomed by leading charity Asthma UK


Scientists have found a gene that causes asthma in children, giving millions hope of new treatments or even a cure.

A faulty version of the gene can weaken the lining of the airways, leaving people vulnerable to the respiratory disease, they found.

The researchers hope the news will lead to better treatments for asthma, which affects 5.4million Britons and caused 1,143 deaths in 2010.

In the long run, they hope gene therapy – replacing faulty DNA with a healthy version – could cure some patients.

‘The finding offers hope for individuals with severe asthma, as the gene seems to play a major role for those with this specific condition,’ said Dr Hakon Hakonarson, of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

‘Asthma researchers have been increasingly interested in the role of the airway epithelium [lining],’ he added.

Scientists compared the DNA of 1,173 children with severe asthma with that of 2,522 healthy people and found those with asthma were far more likely to have a certain gene variation.

The gene in question controls how cells lining the walls of our airways bind together.

In people with a faulty version of the gene, the cells are less effectively bound, leaving them vulnerable to irritants that can cause a major asthma attack.

Scientists believe this gene is the main factor in as many as one in five cases of asthma.

‘Twice as many people with severe asthma had the gene variant as healthy individuals,’ said Dr Hakonarson, joint lead author of the research in the journal Nature Genetics.

‘There will be a sub-set of people with asthma, between 15 and 20 per cent, where this gene has the biggest impact on their condition.’

He added that the discovery ‘may lead to more effective, targeted treatments for this type of childhood asthma’.

Researcher Klaus Bonnelykke, of the University of Copenhagen, said: ‘Because asthma symptoms are fairly similar in all children, doctors tend to approach the condition in the same way.

‘However, in reality asthma has many different underlying mechanisms, which need to be individually mapped.’

Leanne Reynolds, of Asthma UK, said: ‘Asthma is the most common long-term condition in childhood – in fact, one in 11 children have asthma.

‘This study adds to our knowledge about underlying causes of the condition, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

‘We welcome further research into the role of our genes and how they are linked to asthma, as this could lead to the development of life-changing new treatments in the future.’


(Original article)

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