Scientists have known for a long what asthma is: some unwanted inflammation in the complex system of tubes that carries air in and out of your lungs. They just haven’t been able to explain why that inflammation happens. But according to the Telegraph, researchers at Cardiff University and King’s College have pinpointed that inflammation to a particular kind of cell in the respiratory system: one that sense for the presence of calcium in its vicinity. In the case of case of asthmatic patients, these cells forget their normal duties and instead flip their tiny cellular lids when exposed to asthma triggers like smoke or dust. Voila: inflammation.
Currently the only option for fighting an asthma attack is to gulp down a puff of steroids from your inhaler to try to stop the lung-closing inflammation from happening. Figuring out the cell responsible for this bad behavior is important because it enables scientists to target a drug to that kind of cell in order to stop it from acting out right at the source, instead of just trying to stop the symptoms from happening–so this is very good news. And the even better news is that a type of drug that targets these cells already exists: they’re called calcilytics, and they were developed to (unsuccessfully) treat osteoporosis. So far, though it looks like they’re extremely effective at shutting down asthma attacks; now researchers will just have to demonstrate that inhaling a faceful of them is a safe thing for a person to do.
The scientists are hopeful that they’ll be able to start clinical trials for this cure soon, and if those trials are successful, this treatment for asthma could be on the market in just a few years. In the meantime, my fellow asthma friends, let’s cross our fingers–and try not to hold our breath.
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