Scientists from Britain’s Cardiff University have found the root cause of asthma -- a discovery that could pave the way for a new treatment within five years. The researchers found that an overactive calcium sensing receptor (CaSR) reacts to environmental triggers like allergens, cigarette smoke and car fumes, inflaming and narrowing the airway, and eventually causing the potentially fatal symptoms of asthma.
Daniela Riccardi, a researcher from Cardiff University, described the findings as “completely unexpected.”
"I previously worked on investigating the role of this particular sensor in other conditions, such as osteoporosis, before we found that this sensor was present in the airways," she told the Wired magazine. "The triggers release chemicals that activate a sensor in the airways -- if we can block these sensors we can prevent all the symptoms. We knew these chemicals were released during asthma attacks, but didn't know how they worked and didn't have the drug target that could prevent all of these symptoms. Now we know exactly how they work, we can prevent all of these symptoms."
After they understood the role that CaSR played in asthma, the team said they may have found a novel way to treat it. According to the findings of the study, a class of drugs known as calcilytics affects the CaSR and reverses the reactions that cause asthmatic symptoms.
Calcilytics were originally developed as a treatment for osteoporosis over a decade ago, but were retired after they were found to be generally ineffective.
The team hopes to one day replace inhalers by making sure asthmatics never have to experience the symptoms. "If we can prove that calcilytics are safe when administered directly to the lung in people, then in five years we could be in a position to treat patients and potentially stop asthma from happening in the first place," Riccardi said in a press release on Thursday.
The first clinical trials to test calcilytics in asthma patients have already been designed, the Medical Daily reported. The team is awaiting funding, but human trials are expected to begin within two years.