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  • Breakthrough a Breath of Hope for Asthma Sufferers
    Prof Andrew Tobin
  • Prof Graeme Milligan

Breakthrough a Breath of Hope for Asthma Sufferers

Aug 25 2020 Read 693 Times

An international team of scientists, led by the University of Glasgow, have identified a new class of drugs that reverse the symptoms of asthma in animal models and which were also found to show similar effects when applied to lung samples obtained from human donors. Scientists believe that these breakthrough findings(1) could pave the way to a new treatment for human inflammatory lung diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The approach used by the Glasgow team centred on the activation of the protein free fatty acid receptor 4 (FFA4), found in the gut and pancreas where it is activated by dietary fats including the fish oil omega 3. Once activated FFA4 is known to help control levels of glucose in our blood.

Surprisingly the Glasgow team found FFA4 is also present in human lung.

By designing a new class of drugs that activate FFA4 in the lung, the researchers found that the muscle that surrounds the airways relaxes allowing more air to enter the lung. They also found that activators of FFA4 also reduced inflammation caused by exposure of mice to pollution, cigarette smoke and allergens like house dust mite that cause asthma.

Andrew Tobin, Professor of Molecular Pharmacology at the University of Glasgow, said: “It was indeed a surprise to find that by targeting a protein that up to now has been thought of as being activated by fish oils in our diet we were able to relax airway muscle and prevent inflammation. We are optimistic that we can extend our findings and develop a new drug treatment of asthma and COPD.

Professor Graeme Milligan, Gardiner Chair of Biochemistry at the University of Glasgow, added: “We were delighted to see the effectiveness of this class of drugs in relieving the symptoms caused not only by agents that result in asthma but also by pollutants and cigarette smoke.” 

Professor Christopher Brightling, an author on the paper from the University of Leicester and a Consultant of respiratory medicine, said “By the identification of this new mechanism we offer the hope for new effective medicines for those patients that are not responsive to our current treatments.”

(1)‘Pathophysiological regulation of lung function by the free fatty acid receptor FFA4’ is published in Science Translational Medicine. The work was funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).


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