European Respiratory Society conference 2016 - the cutting-edge in asthma research

Asthma UK attended the 2016 European Respiratory Society conference in September to hear about and influence asthma research.

We have some of the world’s leading asthma scientists and research centres in Britain, and we wanted to show how the work we’re doing is leading the way in asthma research.

Over 22,000 researchers, healthcare professionals, people with asthma and scientists from all over the world attended the annual European Respiratory Society conference in London.  This presented a perfect environment for collaboration between researchers, patient organisations and across countries.

We heard about the latest research in understanding the biology of asthma, developing better medicines, and improving the care that people receive. All of this research is so important to improve the lives of people with asthma.

Asthma UK leading the way in research

Because the conference was on 'home turf' here in the UK, it gave us a fantastic opportunity to talk to everyone about our vision for asthma research. This vision includes a ground breaking 'roadmap' that is the result of a three year European programme that we co-ordinated and led.

A roadmap is a plan for research that will help us to reach specific goals – in this case, reducing the number of people that need to go to hospital as a result of their asthma, and reducing the number of people that die as a result of an asthma attack.

The roadmap presents a unique opportunity to bring together the right people in asthma research, to focus on the problems that can really help people with asthma, and generate additional funding for asthma research to solve these problems – this is first time that a charity has co-ordinated something like this.

You can read more about the events that we hosted at the conference and our hopes for their development in the future here.

Sam Walker presenting at ERS

New treatments – a step closer

A quarter of a million people in the UK have asthma so severe that current treatments just don't work, and as a result they struggle to breathe every day. For these people, and for others who would benefit from treatments that work better for them, new medicines to stop asthma attacks are essential.

There were a series of promising research studies into a variety of new treatments presented at the conference, some of which were reported in the media. The new drugs work in different ways, providing us with hope that by tackling asthma from a variety of directions we are more likely to find treatments that work well and a treatment that will work for everybody.

Although not yet ready to be prescribed by your doctor, this is still great progress from where we were even a few years ago. We will keep you up to date with the latest on new treatments, when they are available and which types of asthma they can treat as they emerge.

Asthma in children

There's nothing as terrifying as seeing your child unable to breathe. That's why Asthma UK offers support and advice to parents of children with asthma. But that isn't enough, which is why research into children’s asthma is also essential.

Research into asthma in children was a major theme at this year’s conference. It was positive to see so much research being presented and for everyone to see the progress being made and the necessity of this as an area of research.

Children's asthma is not necessarily the same as asthma seen in adults – understanding these differences is essential for diagnosing asthma in children, providing them with the right treatments, and monitoring the condition well.

While we desperately need better ways to diagnose, treat and manage the condition, preventing future cases is also incredibly important – all of these areas were addressed during the conference, including by many Asthma UK researchers.

The science behind the headlines - Could vitamin D stop asthma attacks?

A big story from the conference that appeared in papers and websites was a study investigating whether vitamin D could reduce the risk of severe asthma attacks in people with asthma.

The study wasn't new research, but was a review of the trials and big projects that have been done so far in this area – this enables us to see what research says overall, rather than relying on the results from just one study. Led by researchers at the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research, the investigation found that vitamin D may reduce the risk of severe asthma attacks.

The caveat is that the evidence still isn't clear on who could benefit the most – so we’re not quite ready to begin recommending this approach to people with asthma. However, it's positive news that confirms that we're on the right track in our research into vitamin D at both the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research and the Asthma UK Centre in Mechanisms of Asthma.

This is what Dr Erika Kennington, Asthma UK's Head of Research said about the study:

"While this research shows promise, more evidence is needed to conclusively show whether vitamin D can reduce asthma attacks and symptoms. With so many different types of asthma it could be that vitamin D may benefit some people with the condition but not others. Asthma UK's research centres are working hard to discover how and why vitamin D affects asthma symptoms and if it could be a potential treatment in the future."