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Research Projects: Developing better medicines and treatments for asthma

These are Asthma UK-funded research projects aimed at developing better medicines and treatments for asthma, and ultimately working towards a cure.

Asthma UK funds research projects aimed at developing better medicines and treatments for asthma, and ultimately working towards a cure. These are all of our current funded projects in this area.

Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research

The Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research is one of our flagship research centres, supporting cutting-edge, world-leading research. Asthma UK funded the Centre for Applied Research in May 2014. The Applied Centre includes researchers from all over the country and from universities and NHS organisations.

Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma

The Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma is one of our flagship research centres, supporting cutting-edge, world-leading research. Asthma UK has supported the Centre since 2011. The Centre is a collaboration between King's College London and Imperial College London.

How do parasites reduce allergic responses?

  • Researcher: Dr Henry McSorley is a researcher at the Institute of Immunology and Infection Research, University of Edinburgh
  • Start date: July 2013
  • How long will this project run for?: 36 months
  • Project type: Research Fellowship
  • Cost: £224,672

Project title: How do parasite products modulate the early events in allergic responses?

Some scientists have proposed that the allergic response evolved from part of the body's immune system to help get rid of parasites from the body - and at some point in time these parasites found a way to switch off or dampen down the allergic immune response in order to survive. So some parasitic infections are thought to protect against asthma and in their absence we're predisposed to it.

Dr Henry McSorley works in the area of parasitic infection and aims to discover whether new medicines could be developed from parasitic worms to treat allergic asthma and prevent it from developing in the first place.

Dr McSorley aims to work out exactly how parasites 'switch off' or dampen down the allergic immune response using proteins isolated from the parasitic worm H. polygyrus. Dr McSorley hopes to discover whether certain proteins found in this worm, called HES proteins, can protect against allergic reactions to moulds called Aspergillus and Alternaria. Both of these types of moulds can cause severe asthma and its estimated that up to 80% of people with asthma are allergic to moulds such as these.

HES proteins are made up of a mixture of hundreds of different molecules, so another aim of Dr McSorley's fellowship project will be to identify which of these molecules might suppress, and therefore protect against, the allergic immune response to asthma caused by moulds. Once these molecules have been identified, they could be developed as new treatments for asthma.

During the first year of the project, Dr McSorley was awarded the prestigious Chancellor's Fellowship by the University of Edinburgh. This will enable him to lead his own laboratory and recruit researchers to work in his team to carry on this research. This shows that Asthma UK funding advances researchers careers and increases the number of researchers investigating asthma, taking us closer to stopping asthma attacks and curing asthma.

Why is asthma worse at night?

  • Researcher: Dr Hannah Durrington is a Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Inflammation and Repair at the University of Manchester.
  • Start date: July 2014
  • How long will the project run for?: 36 months
  • Project type: Research Fellowship
  • Cost: £131,608

Project title: Asthma and the circadian clock

About three-quarters of people with asthma will wake during the night at least once a week because of shortness of breath, cough or wheeze, and symptom worsening during the night is one of the most common features of asthma.

Children with night time asthma miss more time from school and their parents more time from work than healthy children. School and work performance can suffer when the family can't sleep.

Dr Hannah Durrington will be looking at whether asthma symptoms are controlled by the biological clock involved in regulating lung function. She will look at whether this clock plays a role in the variation of asthma symptoms and also its role in the inflammation of the lungs, a crucial part of the development of asthma.

The role of the circadian clock in asthma is a newly emerging and exciting area of research.

Better understanding of the influence of this biological clock on asthma symptoms will give us more information to make better use of current asthma treatments. This study will also provide information about whether the time of day that we experience an asthma attack has a bearing on the time it takes to recover from the attack. This information can be used to guide current asthma management plans and might change the way we use current medicines.

Finding ways to prevent and cure allergic asthma

  • Researcher: Professor Hannah Gould is Professor of Biophysics at King's College London and is also a Principal Investigator at the MRC-Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma.
  • Start date: 1 February 2014
  • How long will the project run for?: 36 months
  • Project type: Project grant
  • Cost: £179,394

Project title: Developmental pathway of IgE-secreting plasma cells: prospective targets for the treatment of asthma

Pioneering researcher Professor Hannah Gould aims to find a new way of treating asthma attacks that may also open the way to a cure for allergic asthma. IgE is the molecule responsible for triggering severe allergic reactions like those seen in asthma. In people with asthma the presence of allergens like pollen or animal dander leads to the production of IgE, which then triggers the chain of events resulting in asthma symptoms. Because of its central role in allergy and asthma, IgE is a favoured target for medicines.

However, current medicines only focus around blocking the action of existing IgE and so their effect is only temporary as IgE-producing cells are constantly active. Professor Gould's aim is to find out if a medicine that could 'knock out' the cells that produce IgE would be more effective.