UK scientists' genetic switch discovery holds promise of cure for asthma

UK scientists have identified a genetic switch which could help to prevent asthma in humans. The development opens up the possibility of stopping the disease at the origin.

The impact of the gene, associated with the development of asthma, ADAM33 was analysed by scientists at the University of Southampton.

ADAM33 makes an enzyme that attaches to cells in the airway muscles, but when the enzyme loses its anchor to the cell surface, it could go rogue around the lung causing poorer lung function in people who had asthma.

The studies in human tissue samples and mice suggested that if ADAM33 was switched off or prevented from going rogue, the features of asthma - including airway remodelling, with more muscle and blood vessels around the airways, twitchiness and inflammation would be  reduced.

The research led by Hans Michel Haitchi, associate professor in respiratory medicine, is published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI) Insight.

Prof Haitchi said, "This finding radically alters our understanding of the field, to say the least, reported.

"For years we have thought that airway remodelling is the result of the inflammation caused by an allergic reaction, but our research tells us otherwise."

Scientists had earlier thought it was allergens – like pollen - that triggered airway remodelling, inflammation and eventually asthma attacks, but they could never explain many people with allergies never got asthma.

Around 5.4 million people in the UK suffer from asthma, but the new study suggests that drugs to knock out the effects of the ADAM33 gene could prevent attacks.

The researchers are planning to test new medication in mice and are in talks with pharmaceutical companies to bring the treatment to market. Charity Asthma UK had also agreed to help fund the next stage describing the breakthrough as 'promising.'