The University of Newcastle, Australia

Breakthrough in asthma research

Monday, 27 March 2017

Researchers from the University of Newcastle’s Healthy Lungs and Grow Up Well Priority Research Centres have reported on the results of a study which could effectively slash the rates of asthma in children of asthmatic mothers.

These findings follow on from Professor Peter Gibson’s 2011 paper, published in The Lancet medical journal, which confirmed that management of asthma during pregnancy could be significantly improved by using a specific test to guide treatment.

For half of the women enrolled in this new study, their asthma medication was adjusted throughout their pregnancy according to their nitric oxide levels. These levels were determined with routine breath tests. The other half of the study participants were medicated according to their own self-assessment of asthma symptoms.

Nitric oxide is an indicator of lung inflammation and asthma severity. Using this important biomarker, the dosage of inhaled corticosteroids (a common asthma medication), was personalised for each expectant mum.

The babies born to the study participants have now been tracked for the first six years of life, and the results look truly promising.

Among the babies of the women whose medication was determined by self-reported symptoms alone, 40% have gone on to develop asthma. This number is halved to 20% in the group whose mediation was adjusted according to nitric oxide status.

In this group, there were also fewer cases of frequent wheeze and recurrent lung infections.

“Asthma is a chronic disease and it has lifelong impacts,” explains Dr Adam Collinson, who reported on the findings at the 2017 Australia and New Zealand Society of Respiratory Science and The Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZSRS) meeting in Canberra.

“Some people might be able to keep their asthma under control but it's always there. It impedes on your ability to exercise and participate in sport - which is very culturally problematic, and often kids and parents can find that particularly difficult.

“This data is exciting because it suggests that there are kids in Newcastle today who would have had asthma but don’t – because their mums are part of this study.

“That brings it home pretty clearly as to its significance. It feels good to be a part of that.”

You can read more about the group’s encouraging findings in the ABC’s coverage of this exciting story.


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