A breakthrough study has uncovered a potential root cause of asthma and a drug that reversed symptoms in lab tests.
The finding brings hope to the 300 million asthma sufferers worldwide who are plagued by debilitating bouts of coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest.
The study - led by Cardiff University in the UK - reveals for the first time that the calcium-sensing receptor (CaSR) plays a key role in causing the airway disease.The team used human airway tissue from asthmatic and nonasthmatic people and lab mice with asthma to reach their findings.
In their report, the scientists describe how manipulating CaSR with an existing class of drugs known as calcilytics reversed all symptoms.
Calcilytics block the calcium-sensing receptor and were originally developed for the treatment of osteoporosis - a condition that makes bones more likely to break - also referred to as "brittle bone disease."
One of the crucial study results is that the symptoms the drug reversed include airway narrowing, airway twitchiness and inflammation - all of which make breathing more difficult.
For the first time the study links airway inflammation, triggered by cigarette smoke, car fumes and other pollutants, with airway twitchiness.
While the finding is likely to be welcomed by all asthma sufferers, it will particularly excite the 1 in 12 patients who do not respond to current treatments and who account for around 90 percent of health care costs associated with the disease.
The researchers believe their findings about the role of CaSR in airway tissue could have important implications for other respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis. There are currently no cures for these diseases, which predictions suggest will be the third biggest killers worldwide by 2020.