Scientists have identified a gene that could lead to a breakthrough in the treatment of asthma, with tablets replacing steroid inhalers.
As a result of work carried out at Dundee University, researchers believe that drugs currently used to treat diabetes could be adapted to control acute asthma attacks.
Until now asthma treatments have been dominated by steroid therapies which can often have serious side effects.
There are around 400,000 asthma sufferers in Scotland, more than one-quarter of them children.
Research has revealed that a particular form of the PPAR gamma gene makes young asthmatics two to three times more likely to suffer acute attacks. The gene has been studied by teams working on diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Now scientists say the cross-over to asthma has produced "exciting results".
Somnath Mukhopadhyay, consultant paediatrician at Tayside Children's Hospital, who has led the research with Colin Palmer from the Biomedical Research Centre in Dundee, said: "The exciting thing is that drugs which target PPAR gamma are already available and used to treat type 2 diabetes. If these drugs also correct the problems . . . in terms of increased proneness to asthma attacks, then this is potentially a major boost in how we treat asthma.
"The next step for us is to investigate whether these drugs, which do not carry any of the side-effects of steroids, have the effect of protecting asthmatics from acute asthma attacks."
Dr Palmer said: "Our hope is that by identifying the gene we will be able to personalise asthma treatment for each individual patient, thereby making it more effective.
"The next stage will be to carry out clinical trials with these diabetes drugs to see if they are equally effective in preventing asthma attacks.
"If the trials are successful it could be that the tablets would be used to completely replace steroid inhalers for some asthmatic children, avoiding all of the side effects often associated with steroids."
Asthma attacks are one of the commonest causes of school absences, hospital admissions and GP visits. They cost the NHS over £100m a year and nearly 13 million UK working days are lost to the condition every year.
Dr Mukhopadhyay said that using inhaled steroids in high doses could results in the suppression of the patients' adrenal glands and this leads to the body having low resistance to infections and other problems.
The research is published in the journal Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics.
source - The Herald UK