New Potential Asthma Treatment Through New Understanding of Airway Closure

Asthma is a consequence of rising air pollution, and new approaches to the problem like this can help those who suffer from it. It’s a disease estimated to cost the U.S. economy about $80 billion a year, which is an amount equal to about $635 per U.S. family.

Houston Methodist researchers have a new explanation for what causes the lungs’ airways to close during asthma attacks that could change the lives of the 300 million people worldwide who suffer from asthma. The discovery holds promise for developing a new class of drugs that is radically different from the steroids currently used to treat it.

Led by Xian C. Li, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues in the Immunobiology and Transplant Science Center at the Houston Methodist Research Institute, the study is in the Feb. 5 issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine, one of the oldest journals in medicine.

One of the key features of asthma is an overproduction of a highly sticky protein secreted by the mucous membranes of airways in the lungs, called mucin, which leads to plugging up the small airways and stopping air from traveling in and out of them. This leaves patients out of breath and, oftentimes, causes them to gasp for air.

Li and his team discovered an interaction between two molecules that can be manipulated to solve this problem. “If we can do this and develop better and more specific drugs to selectively stop super-enhancers, asthmatic patients may never have to struggle for air again,” he said.

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“Finding new approaches to target and block super-enhancers may provide a new means of treatment for asthma patients that is likely to be more efficacious than the standard of care, which is now steroids,” Li said.