As seen on Channel 7 News:
Thousands of Australian asthmatics who are resistant to traditional inhaled medications may soon have a new drug at their fingertips, thanks to a breakthrough by Australian scientists.
A newly-published study, led by the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, reveals a new drug that has the potential to treat people with the chronic lung disease whose condition is poorly managed, placing a heavy burden on the country's health system.
Woolcock cell biologist Brian Oliver and colleagues tested out a small fragment of a large molecule called tumstatin, which is known to be effective in treating asthma but is too big to be used as an inhaled drug. The fragment or peptide, called LF-15, was trialled on asthmatic mice in the laboratory and on human airway tissue grown in the petri dish.
"Excitingly, we were able to show the peptide reduced airway hyperactivity and inflammation, markers of asthma, in both the lab mice and in human tissue," Dr Oliver says.
"And we were able to do so with a totally new approach that reduces inflammation by stopping new blood vessels from forming, a very different mechanism when compared to traditional anti-inflammatory drugs. That makes our discovery a potentially new and exciting treatment alternative."
Asthma affects one in ten Australians, with sufferers experiencing episodes of wheezing, breathlessness and chest tightness due to widespread narrowing of the airways. The causes are still not well understood, but triggers are known to include viral infections, exercise, and exposure to allergens and irritants.
One in ten asthmatics are "steroid resistant", meaning the common steroid-based medications do not work. These hard-to-treat patients account for about 90 per cent of asthma health care expenditure.
Dr Oliver says the potential drug offers new hope to treat resistant patients, dramatically curbing healthcare costs if it proves effective in helping people keep their asthma symptoms in check.
The smaller-sized peptide would also be relatively cheaper to produce, making it an even more appealing therapeutic target.
However, he says clinical trials would be needed to verify if these observations are reproducible in humans.
"This is the first step in an exciting journey which could change not just treatment options but the daily lives of Australians living with this chronic disease," Dr Oliver says.
The study, published in the international scientific journal PLOS ONE, is a collaboration between the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, the University of Sydney and the University of Newcastle.
Asthma in Australia
- Asthma is one of the most common chronic disorders, affecting one in ten Australians
- Sufferers experience episodes of wheezing, breathlessness and chest tightness due to widespread narrowing of the airways
- The causes are still not well understood, but triggers are known to include viral infections, exercise, and exposure to allergens and irritants
- $655 million was spent on asthma in 2008-09
- 37,830 Australians were hospitalised due to asthma in 2010, and 416 people died from the condition