A recent study has revealed a breakthrough in asthma research might be on the horizon. Following extensive research carried out across a number of institutions, it has been discovered that protein molecules - known as calcium-sensing receptors - have a vital role in asthma. Although they have not previously been used to treat asthma, there is already medication available (calcilytics) that could be used to block these proteins.

In asthmatics, the immune system essentially misidentifies harmless substances, such as pollen for example, as a threat. The airways then restrict in an attempt to keep the ‘harmful’ substances from entering the lungs leading to the body facing constricted airways and, therefore, less ability to breathe properly.

Using mouse models and human airway tissue taken from both asthmatic and non-asthmatic people, the researchers discovered that increased numbers of calcium-sensing receptors usually accompanied healthier lung tissue, as compared to the airway tissue without calcium-sensing receptors. Based on the study, the researchers concluded that this is one of the main reasons for the excessive inflammatory responses that occur in people with asthma.

This discovery has led the researchers to believe that new treatment options for asthma could be found some time in the near future. Although, certainly, it is not going to be any time in the next few months, this discovery is a huge step forward in finding a treatment, or combination of treatments, that will help people to deal with asthma once and for all.

When approached by our research team, the medical experts of a UK healthcare provider expressed a sincere appreciation of the work carried out by researchers, but also stressed that people should remain cautious when talking about an asthma cure. “Whilst this study offers hope to over 5% of asthma sufferers who do not respond to any of the treatments currently available, we would advise people to await the results of human trials before making claims of a potential cure.”

However, whilst a pragmatic approach is needed, Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Research and Policy at Asthma UK, was optimistic about the future potential this study has:

“This hugely exciting discovery enables us, for the first time, to tackle the underlying causes of asthma symptoms. 5% of people with asthma don’t respond to current treatments so research breakthroughs could be life changing for hundreds of thousands of people.”

Researchers are hopeful for further animal (and potentially human) clinical trials within the next two years, allowing researchers to determine whether the use of calcilytics is a viable treatment method for asthma. There are a number of areas that large-scale clinical trials could help clear up. Whilst we know that calcilytics can block the receptors, the study has not shown how long this effect would last, and what the body’s response to it would be. Also, whilst the asthma sufferers who took part in this study had an increased number of receptors, it is not known why, and whether the same is true for all people with asthma. However, the study does raise some hope of new asthma treatments in the future, something that should give hope to millions of asthma sufferers worldwide.

The study was published by researchers from Cardiff University, The Open University, the University of Manchester, the University of California, the San Francisco School of Medicine and King’s College, London. It was funded by Asthma UK, the Cardiff Partnership Fund, Marie Curie Initial Training Network, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the US National Institutes of Health.