Study demonstrates promising new asthma drug that relaxes the airways

An international team of scientists working to uncover new treatments for asthma has identified a protein in the lungs that could be activated to allow sufferers to breathe easier. Demonstrated in mice, the findings provide not just a new target for asthma drugs, but another common condition affected by inflammation in the lungs, in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The promising research was carried out by scientists from the University of Glasgow, together with a team from the University of Technology Sydney’s Center for Inflammation. The scientists were investigating alternative treatments for severe forms of asthma and COPD, and believe they have found a new mechanism that can be leveraged to improve the lives of sufferers of both conditions.

Previously, research has shown how a protein that lives in the gut and pancreas, called free fatty acid receptor 4 (FFA4), can be activated by dietary fats to help regulate glucose levels in the blood. The authors of the new study made the key discovery that FFA4 also lives in the human lung, which opened up some interesting new possibilities.

Both asthma and COPD can lead to swelling in the airways that causes the characteristic breathing difficulties in sufferers, and the team has demonstrated how targeting the FFA4 receptor in the lungs might treat this symptom.

The team developed a new class of drugs specifically to activate FFA4 in the lungs of mice, and found that it relaxed the muscle surrounding the airways. This not only enabled more air to enter the lungs of the rodents, but simultaneously reduced inflammation triggered by exposure to pollution, cigarette smoke and allergens such as dust mites.

The research is in its very early stages and it’s a long road before human trials can be undertaken and this treatment can enter clinical use, but the identification of this previously unknown mechanism is promising. Ultimately, the team hopes it can come to offer new medicines for patients that don’t respond to current treatments for asthma and COPD.

“It was indeed a surprise to find that by targeting a protein that up to now has been thought of as being activated by fish oils in our diet we were able to relax airway muscle and prevent inflammation,” says study author Andrew Tobin, from the University of Glasgow. “We are optimistic that we can extend our findings and develop a new drug treatment of asthma and COPD.”

The research was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Source: University of Glasgow

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