Cardiff University scientists claim to have identified for the first time the potential root cause of asthma and an existing drug that offers a new treatment.
Working with colleagues from King’s College London and the US, they looked at the previously unproven role of the calcium sensing receptor (CaSR) in causing asthma.
“For the first time we have found a link between airways inflammation and airways twitchiness in allergic asthma”
The team used mouse models of asthma and human airway tissue from asthmatic and non-asthmatic people to reach their findings.
Crucially, the authors said their paper highlighted the effectiveness of a class of drugs known as calcilytics in manipulating CaSR to reverse all symptoms associated with asthma.
“Our findings are incredibly exciting,” said principal investigator Professor Daniela Riccardi. “For the first time we have found a link [between] 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,” she said.
Using calcilytics, nebulized directly into the lungs, we show that it is possible to deactivate CaSR and prevent all of these symptoms,” she added.
Calcilytics were first developed for the treatment of osteoporosis around 15 years ago but ultimately proved unsuccessful.
Dr Samantha Walker, director of research and policy at Asthma UK, which helped fund the research, said the findings meant that a new treatment for asthma “may be just a few years away”.
“This hugely exciting discovery enables us, for the first time, to tackle the underlying causes of asthma symptoms,” she said, adding that investment was urgently needed for further trials.
“We may be just a few years away from a new treatment for asthma”
The researchers also suggest their findings may also have the potential for treating other lung conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and bronchitis.
They are now seeking funding to determine the efficacy of calcilytic drugs in treating asthmas that are especially difficult to treat, particularly those that are steroid-resistant and exacerbated by flu.
Once funding has been secured, the group aim to be trialling the drugs on humans within two years.
“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 potentially stop asthma from happening in the first place,” said Professor Riccardi.
The findings have been published in the journal, Science Translational Medicine.