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The chronic lung disease, asthma is a common condition that affects hundreds of millions of people each year. The symptoms include wheezing, coughing, tightness in the chest and shortness of breath. Although there is no cure for asthma, the symptoms can be controlled with medication. 

Now, researchers from Houston Methodist Research institute in the US have discovered a new insight into what causes the lung’s airways to narrow during an attack.

Asthma occurs when a protein is excessively produced by the mucus membranes in the airways in the lungs. This results in a blockage in the lung’s small airways, which leads to breathing difficulties. The researchers improved this understanding by identifying white blood cells in the lungs that communicate with the mucus producing cells through a protein called IL-9. In asthma sufferers, these white blood cells are hyperactive. The scientists also identified a molecule called OX40, which produces a genetic response from the body to produce the IL-9 protein in excess.

The scientists were then able to produce a chemical inhibitor, which they used to prevent the body’s production of IL-9 and therefore stopping the genetic process that occurs prior to an asthma attack. This new discovery could potentially change healthcare professionals’ approach to treating the disease. 

Speaking about their findings, Xian C. Li, lead author of the study from the Immunobiology and Transplant Science Centre at the Houston Methodist Research Institute said, “Finding new approaches to target and block super-enhancers may provide a new means of treatment for asthma patients that is likely to be more efficacious than the standard of care, which is now steroids.”

According to the World Health Organisation, asthma effects 235 million people across the world.