Asthma Symptoms Get Subdued By New Molecule


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As I live and breathe!

Wait - where did that saying come from? We can't very well do the former sans the latter. That's why it's awesome news for asthmatics that a medicine capable of suppressing allergen-induced asthma attacks might be imminent.

Of the 25 million plus Americans with this condition, 60% have attacks caused by allergens. Research headed by Dr. Minoru Fukuda (of the Tumor Microenvironment and Metastasis Program at Sanford-Burnham) discovered a synthetic molecule capable of mitigating the symptoms during these kinds of attacks. The study shows how the novel molecule intervenes with perceived immune threats precipitating episodes in mice

"We have identified a synthetic molecule, a sulfate monosaccharide, that inhibits the signal that recruits T cells to the lungs to start an asthma attack," Dr. Fukuda states.

This signal occurs when an asthmatic's system interprets pollen, smoke, dust (any number of irritants that are airborne) as a grave danger. While others might just cough or sneeze, the affected have a cascade of protein reactions happening inside them that end in inflammation and narrowed airways (as shown in the process below). This means an inability to get enough oxygen.

Pretty frightening stuff.

But there’s hope! This new player they’ve cooked up in the lab is capable of blocking communications of chemokine CCL20 (a T cell signaling protein) and heparin sulfate (a molecule that protects CCL20 and keeps it on lung epithelial cells).

"The molecule substantially lessened asthma symptoms such as inflammation, mucus production, and airway constriction," describes Fukuda.

You could think of it like a basketball player setting a pick. With the new molecule in place, chemokine CCL20 can’t do its usual job of recruiting the T cells. Since those T cells (now blocked, thanks to our hero molecule) ultimately cause brutal bouts of suffocating and wheezing, that means asthma loses the game and the home teams wins (cue cheering crowd).

Right now treatments include antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and bronchodilators (that’s the medicine inhalers contain that reduce mucus and inflammation in lungs). What’s cool about this new find, however, is that test subjects responded to multiple methods. Whether the sulfate monosaccharide was mainlined or merely respired, the mice likewise demonstrated reduced reactions during attacks.

Fukuda and his team are continuing their efforts in hopes of eventually helping sufferers everywhere via this new method. He explains, “Pulmonary inhalation of this new molecule may help reduce asthma symptoms by suppressing chemokine-mediated inflammatory responses,” and added:

“We look forward to the further development of the molecule to treat the millions of people who suffer from this chronic disease.”

Image via Wikimedia Commons