A cure for asthma may be five years away after scientists discovered how the causes of the condition can be switched off.
Cardiff University and Kings College London researchers have identified the cells triggered by irritants that cause narrowing of airways inducing coughing, chest tightness and breathlessness.
As the drugs that can deactivate those cells, called calcilytics, already exist and are used in the treatment of osteoporosis, scientists hope that within five years doctors would be able to administer treatment directly into the lungs of patients, stopping asthma from happening in the first place.
"Our findings are incredibly exciting," professor Daniela Riccardi, of Cardiff University's School of Biosciences, told The Telegraph newspaper.
"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."0
Experiments on mice revealed that calcium sensing receptor cells were particularly sensitive in asthmatics.
the report quoted Dr Samantha Walker, director of research and policy at Asthma UK, as saying the discovery could be life-changing for 'hundreds of thousands of people'.
She added, if the research proved successful we may be just a few years away from a new treatment for asthma, and further investment was urgently needed to take it further through clinical trials.
Asthma, a debilitating long-term condition causes coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and breathlessness.
It severely affects children's lives, forcing them to stay indoors to avoid allergens, and to avoid exercise for fear of bringing on an attack.
Scientists knew that inflammation in the small tubes carrying air and out of the lungs, caused asthma but did not know what triggered the attack.
However, experiments on mice and human airway tissue revealed that calcium sensing receptor (CaSR ) cells - which detect changes in the environment went into overdrive in asthmatics, which caused, inflammation and narrowing.
The inhalation of calcilytic drugs deactivates the cells and stops all symptoms, the research - published in Science Translational Medicine - found.
The scientists hope that clinical trials would soon start.