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New treatment targets source of asthma

18 May 2010

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Category: Research & medical benefits

boy–inhaler–asthma.jpgLowering the production of specific immune cells could prevent asthma attacks, research on mice shows.

Asthma attacks occur when the body overreacts to an infection, causing an excessive inflammation of the airways. Previous studies have focussed on reducing the number of immune cells in the blood, in order to suppress the highly sensitive response which results in inflammation. Although this method can help, it is an ineffective solution as patients still need ongoing treatment. Now scientists have identified a new target for treatment which could actually prevent attacks from taking place. The targets are asthma-B cells: specific immune cells involved in the initiation of an asthmatic response.

B cells are immune cells that secrete IgE molecules into the blood. Other types of IgE molecules are attached to the surface of the B cells and both types contribute to asthma attacks.

A research team developed a mouse model which showed symptoms of asthma. The mice were treated with molecules called monoclonal antibodies - which are designed to target IgE attached to the surface of B cells.

The results showed that treated mice had 90% fewer IgE molecules in the blood compared with an untreated control group. The treatment also caused an overall reduction in IgE producing B cells. This resulted in a protective effect against asthma, as the immune response did not overreact to infection.

Although the effects of this treatment are longer lasting than previous methods, researchers still need to address the issue of immunological memory. The production of cells may be lowered, but the body's ability to ‘remember' how to produce the cells remains - an issue that scientists intend to tackle with future research.

Currently 5.4 million people in the UK receive treatment for asthma which kills on average three people every day.