U.K. scientists find potential long-term treatment for asthma

Oleksandr Pidvalnyi/Pexels

New research has revealed a treatment in mice that addresses the causes of asthma, not just the symptoms.

The study, published in the journal Respiratory Medicine, was conducted by researchers from Aston University in Birmingham, England and Imperial College London. Investigators sought to address the structural changes asthma makes to the airway and lungs.

The research focused on a type of stem cell known as a pericyte, which is mainly found in the lining of blood vessels, according to the authors. When asthmatics have an allergic and inflammatory reaction this causes the pericytes to move to the airway walls. Once there, the pericytes develop into muscle cells and other cells that make the airway thicker and less flexible. 

According to the study, this movement of the pericytes is triggered by a protein known as CXCL12. The researchers used a molecule called LIT-927 to block the signal from this protein, by introducing it into the mice’s nasal passages. According to the study’s authors, asthmatic mice that were treated with LIT-927 had a reduction in symptoms within one week and their symptoms  disappeared within two weeks. In addition, the researchers found that the airway walls in mice treated with LIT-927 were much thinner than those in untreated mice, closer to those of healthy controls.

“By targeting the changes in the airway directly, we hope this approach could eventually offer a more permanent and effective treatment than those already available, particularly for severe asthmatics who don’t respond to steroids,” said Jill Johnson, PhD, principal investigator, and lead researcher on the study in a statement. “However, our work is still at an early stage and further research is needed before we can begin to test this in people.”