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New treatment potential for asthma patients: Study

Scientists uncover protein responsible for the narrowing of airways in asthma.

By Amy Wallace
A new study from the University of Leicester has identified a key protein associated with the narrowing of airways in people with severe asthma, which could lead to better treatments. Photo by M. Dykstra/Shutterstock
A new study from the University of Leicester has identified a key protein associated with the narrowing of airways in people with severe asthma, which could lead to better treatments. Photo by M. Dykstra/Shutterstock

March 1 (UPI) -- Researchers at the University of Leicester in England have identified a key protein related to the narrowing of the airway in people with severe asthma that could lead to better treatment.

The study revealed an active form of the protein HMGB1 is increased in patients with severe asthma, playing a role in the narrowing of airways, which the researchers say offers drug makers a new target for patients not helped by existing treatment methods.

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Researchers examined mucus and airway muscle samples from patients with mild to moderate asthma, severe asthma and healthy individuals at Leicester University's Glenfield Hospital, finding those with higher levels of the protein had more significant asthma.

"We have shown that the amount of HMGB1, a protein that can be released in the airways by cells involved in inflammation or by damaged cells, is increased in the mucus from the airways of people with severe asthma," Dr. Ruth Saunders, a professor in the University of Leicester's Department of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation, said in a press release.

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"To our knowledge, this is the first study to show a direct effect of HMGB1 on enhancing airway muscle contraction in response to stimuli. The findings of this research bring us a step closer to improved treatments for people with severe asthma."

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The findings could allow drug makers to target the protein for future, improved treatment for non-allergy asthma.

"For a number of people with asthma, particularly severe asthma, treatment is not 100 percent effective," Saunders said. "Although a number of new therapies are under investigation for allergy-related asthma, there is still a need for new therapies for asthma that is not related to allergies."

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The study was published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

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