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Achievements from our research

We can be proud that at Asthma UK we’ve contributed towards many success stories in research. Here are some of our key achievements.

Asthma UK funds world-leading research at the cutting-edge of science to understand the biology of asthma, work towards better treatments and a cure, and to improve diagnosis and the care that people with asthma receive.

The UK boasts some of the best asthma researchers in the world and Asthma UK has been a vital part of many of their successes in asthma research.

It is only with the generous support of donors and funders that we have been able to achieve these breakthroughs, and aim for many more in the future.

Below are just some of the examples of recent discoveries that Asthma UK's funding has helped to achieve:

A new drug to help people with severe asthma

Professor Brian SuttonThere are 250,000 people with asthma so severe the standard steroid treatments don't work. Asthma UK invests in research which we hope will lead to new treatments that they can use. A few years ago a drug called Xolair came onto the market and is proving very successful for some people with severe asthma. Xolair works by blocking a protein called IgE so that it can't react with allergens. For some people now on Xolair it has literally been a lifesaver and they are now free from asthma attacks.

The drug is based on pioneering research by Professor Brian Sutton and his team, and was funded by Asthma UK. They first discovered the shape of IgE this enabled researchers to then design proteins that could block it so the allergic reaction could not happen, and scientists are continuing to work to understand similar antibodies to see if they can develop other drugs in a similar vein.

Professor Sutton said: "It has been great that they [Asthma UK] saw from the outset this was a good line that was likely to lead to new therapies. And I think this is why they kept funding us."

Stopping dust mites from causing asthma

Professor Clive RobinsonClinical trials of a new asthma treatment may be just around the corner, leading to relief for the many people whose asthma is triggered by house dust mites, one of the most common asthma triggers.

With the support of Asthma UK between 1992-2007, Professor Clive Robinson and his team investigated why allergies to house dust mites cause asthma, resulting in the discovery of a way to block the allergy in the first place rather than treating the reaction. Based on their Asthma UK funded work, the Wellcome Trust has supported Prof Robinsons team with nearly 7 million to move the work towards clinical trials and the development of a new treatment that can benefit people with asthma.

Professor Robinson says, "The role of Asthma UK cannot be under-estimated. Without their vision and insight, promising research projects may never get off the ground. This is crucial if were to save lives in the future.

"We're extremely grateful to both of the funders who have enabled our line of research to progress. I want to emphasise that funding from Asthma UK enabled everything that followed from our first discoveries. Without that, we would not be where we are today, on the threshold of an entirely new treatment that I hope, before too long, will be able to prevent asthma."

Possible new drug for asthma in 5 years?

Professor Chris CorriganIn early 2015 you may have read in the news about a potential new drug for asthma.

In 2011 Asthma UK made a small Test of Concept grant to enable researchers to investigate the role of calcium in asthma a hitherto unexplored area. The result of this initial research led to a later, larger study between researchers at the MRC-Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma and Cardiff University, which established that people with asthma have more of a special type of calcium receptor in their lungs than people without asthma. These receptors, which sit on the surface of a cell, respond to chemicals in the environment such as pollution or allergic asthma triggers. They are called calcium-sensing receptors or CaSR for short.

The scientists behind this study are really excited because they have found that under lab conditions a class of drugs called calcilytics, (which were originally produced as a treatment for osteoporosis) block the CaSRs, making them less likely to respond to asthma triggers and cause asthma attacks. The next stage will be clinical trials and if the drugs work we could have a new treatment for asthma in as little as five years.

Professor Chris Corrigan says, "Funding from Asthma UK assisted us to establish that 'calcilytic' drugs, which block the calcium sensing receptor, can reverse or abolish twitchiness of the airways which are responsible for the symptoms of asthma. Existing drugs, such as preventer inhalers, address this problem only indirectly by reducing inflammation of the airways which is thought to be one trigger for this twitchiness while reliever inhalers make the muscle cells relax, temporarily alleviating the blockage.

"By using calcilytic drugs, we can potentially target the cause of the twitchiness rather than the reaction, regardless of what has caused it, and thus treat all asthma. The challenge now is to develop a form of these drugs which can be inhaled safely to the airways and then to explore their effects in people with asthma."

You can find out more about this exciting research story in this YouTube video.