Researchers from the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research have been working on a new approach to the treatment of asthma by focusing on a protein called tumstatin. Researchers already knew that this naturally-occurring protein fragment played an important role in asthma. There's less of it around in asthmatic airways, and it reduces the over-reaction and inflammation that occurs in asthma by stopping excess blood vessels forming. They needed then to work out how to manufacture the tumstatin, or effective parts of it so that it can get into the airways as a treatment. This is a completely new way of reducing inflammation, and so is a very exciting development.
There are other bonuses as well - the smaller peptide is likely to be easier to get into a form that works well as a medication, and it may be more cost-effective to produce than the larger form.
Unfortunately, there's a bit further to go with the research before it turns up on the pharmacy shelves - the researchers need to repeat the experiments in human trials to check that the effects are still the same, and then the usual checks are done to check for any side effects and safety. This means at least another 5 years or so before it gets to users, but it's a big and exciting step that could mean a whole new treatment option for the 10% of Australians with asthma.
So far the results in human lung tissue have been really promising.