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Breathe easy

Breathe easy

Genetic screening for asthma could help prevent attacks, but we are not quite there yet

Posted: 9 May 2016

Writer: Saša Jankovic

Asthma is a long-term condition that can be well managed with regular medication. In some patients it is a very serious condition which, if not treated properly, can lead to asthma attacks that can be life threatening. However, with the right medicines taken at the right time according to a treatment plan, many patients are able to live a life without symptoms.

A new study from the University of Aberdeen – published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in January 2016 – claims that screening children with asthma for a common genetic change could help prevent asthma attacks and lead to more effective treatment.

The study of 4,000 children with asthma revealed that those with the gene change were 50 per cent more likely to suffer an attack than those without, when treated with a steroid inhaler and another treatment called a long acting beta agonist (LABA) – a medication that causes the muscles lining the breathing tubes to relax and widen the airway.

This is because around 60 per cent of people have a very common genetic change in the gene that makes the LABA work less well. The researchers found children with this change were 50 per cent more likely to have an asthma attack if treated with just a steroid inhaler and LABA. Children with the genetic change who were treated with other asthma medicines did not experience increased asthma attacks.

The study concluded that the presence of this genetic change made the LABA treatment less effective, with the implication that routine testing for this common gene may let clinicians know which asthma treatment works best in children with asthma and spare them an unsuccessful ‘trial by treatment’.

However, with clinical trials still needed, this is not going to happen overnight, according to Richard Iles, consultant in respiratory paediatrics and clinical lead for the National Paediatric Asthma Collaboration: “Our study shows that those with the gene change are more likely to suffer an attack because they are being treated with LABA, which is ineffective for them.”

In the meantime, he says the question is “’how do we match the right children to the right treatment?'”, adding: “This is research work in progress – very encouraging – but it may be several years before it is fully interpreted and available as a clinical tool.”

Join us tomorrow for the second episode of this week’s feature on asthma as we’ll be discussing screening and after diagnosis

To keep up to date with the latest developments and to receive updates on how Asthma UK is working with healthcare professionals to improve asthma care visit: www.asthma.org.uk/professionals/sign-up or call Asthma UK's Helpline on 0300 222 5800 to speak to the charity's expert asthma nurses who are here to support healthcare professionals.