Asthma breakthrough may lead to improved treatment

Scientists have discovered a gene involved in the development of asthma, a finding that promises to lead to better treatment and understanding of the respiratory disorder.

A team of medical geneticists led by Professor William Cookson, of Oxford University, announced the discovery of an asthma gene at the weekend after six years of intensive investigation involving more than 20 doctors.

The gene appears to be involved in regulating white blood cells which produce the key antibody that plays a role in triggering the extreme allergies implicated in asthma and childhood eczema, a skin disorder.

"Finding the new gene adds a new dimension to understanding asthma and allergic diseases, but the understanding is still incomplete," Professor Cookson said.

There are about 10 genetic traits that are known to play a role in predisposing someone to asthma and about half of these genes have been identified.

The latest gene, called PhF11, is located on chromosome 13, which has been known for many years to contain a gene for asthma. Its discovery, published in the journal Nature Genetics, may lead to better classification of the disease and to new treatments, Professor Cookson said. "It is very likely that all the important genes will be found in the next three years. Even without knowing all the genes involved in asthma, our ideas about the causes of the disease are changing and we are seeing new ways to treat the illness," the professor said.

Asthma has been one of the fastest-growing disorders in Britain, affecting one in seven children. Worldwide, about 155 million people have been diagnosed with the respiratory disorder. Although environmental factors, such as house-dust mites, are linked with asthma, there is also a strong genetic component, with some people being innately more susceptible than others.

By studying the role of genes in asthma, scientists hope to understand the factors that trigger the disease and how to treat the symptoms at a more fundamental level.

Professor Cookson said that different variations of certain genes were usually associated with severe asthma in adults but added that the PhF11 gene might be involved in milder forms of asthma and eczema in children.

One possible goal for new forms of treatment could be to develop drugs that could turn off the genetic "switches" involved in the production of the immunoglobin E (IgE) antibody, which is heavily implicated in many allergic reactions, including asthmatic attacks. "The challenge of translating genetic findings into new treatments is, however, not trivial and will not be accomplished overnight," Professor Cookson said. "This type of genetic research is expensive and laborious and takes years of work."

When scientists first began to locate the genetic traits for asthma more than a decade ago, commentators suggested that their work would lead to a cure for asthma within five years, a prediction that has proved optimistic.

Donna Covey, representing the National Asthma Campaign, which funded the study with the Wellcome Trust, said that genetics was making an impact on the understanding of the respiratory disorder.

"We already know that developing asthma depends on the balance of genetic factors and environmental factors to which they are exposed," Ms Covey said.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

    Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

    £40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

    Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent