Warrior immune cells could win the fight against asthma

Monday, 5 May 2014

University of Newcastle Laureate Professor Paul Foster is developing new anti-inflammatory approaches to treat asthma and infections of the lung. One promising approach is to boost the body's own defence systems against infections, especially against those that trigger asthma.

Paul FosterProfessor Foster believes that controlling inflammatory responses in the lung, by arming immune cells to better fight infection, may lead to better treatments for diseases like asthma and chronic infections of the lung.

With over 300 million asthma sufferers globally*, Professor Foster's critical breakthroughs could have far-reaching implications.

"Many of the 250,000 deaths* annually caused by chronic respiratory disorders are attributed to poor immune responses to infections. Developing new ways of boosting the immune response could be very beneficial for the treatment of chronic lung infections and those linked to asthma," said Professor Foster.

"Steroids are the conventional treatment for asthma but they can have side effects and do not cure the disease. Steroids may also dampen the immune response to infection and exacerbate disease. Also, not everyone is responsive to steroids and within that non-responsive group there is a lot of morbidity," said Professor Foster.

"Viral infections play a key role in making asthma worse and bacterial infections are also emerging as important triggers. Asthmatics often end up with lung infections and under those conditions the immune system doesn't always function that well to clear the infection," said Professor Foster.

One of the major breakthroughs in Professor Foster's research involves the role of microRNA, which regulate protein production in human cells and can regulate inflammation linked to asthma.

"After investigating the role of microRNA in clearing bacteria in the lung we were able to show that these molecules can enhance the function of the immune cell, making them more active so that they can clear the infection faster," said Professor Foster.

Professor Foster is the Director of the University of Newcastle's Priority Research Centre for Asthma and Respiratory Disease and Director of the National Cooperative Research Centre for Asthma and Airways. 

*World Health Organization. Global surveillance, prevention and control of chronic respiratory diseases: a comprehensive approach, 2007.

Read more about our global leaders in asthma research from the University of Newcastle's Priority Research Centre for Asthma and Respiratory Diseases.

PRC Asthma

  • Alyssa Gill
  • Phone: +612 4921 5577

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