A new treatment could help asthma sufferers breathe more easily and even prevent an attack, a study found.
There currently is no cure for the condition which affects one in every 12 adults and one in every 11 children in Britain.
During an attack the airways become narrower and irritated making it difficult to breathe leading to asthma symptoms, such as chest tightness, wheezing, or coughing.
Sufferers take a dilator salbutamol and a steroid to reduce immune response.
Now a study by the Universities of Leicester and Naples examined the role of a pain receptor in the body that could help to prevent or reduce the effects of asthma attacks.
It found nociceptin, a peptide that activates the nociceptin receptor, better known for its association with pain processing has substantial activity in asthma models given before or during an asthma attack.
Yet a single molecule reduces both the immune response and causes dilation.
The breakthrough has led scientists to suggest this could help to prevent or reduce established asthma attacks in people suffering from the disease.
Professor of Anaesthetic Pharmacology Dr David Lambert at Leicester’s Department of Cardiovascular Sciences said: “I have been working on the pain related and immune modulatory actions of nociceptin for many years and it is really exciting to see this translated into a further therapeutic arena; the devastating airways disease of asthma.”
Professor Chris Brightling at Leicester’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation added: “In spite of good treatments for asthma many people with asthma still have ongoing symptoms and frequent attacks.
“This exciting research presents an entirely new approach for asthma that needs to be tested in clinical trials.”
Professor Bruno D’Agostino from the University of Naples said: “For many years, my research group has been working on the role of nociceptin in the regulation of airway responsiveness in animal models, and it is very interesting translating our results into clinic area regarding asthma, a disease that is forecast to grow over the next years.”
Head of Research at Asthma UK Dr Erika Kennington said: “There’s nothing as terrifying as not being able to breathe, yet every 10 seconds someone in the UK has a potentially life threatening asthma attack.
“This research is exciting because the protein identified here may relieve not just the symptoms, but the inflammation of the lungs and the tightening of the airways that cause asthma too.
“We urgently need more investment in asthma research to turn these findings into new treatments.”
The study was published in the British Journal of Pharmacology.