Cure

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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.

2019 Career Development Awards

 

1) Targeting proteins called ion channels in type 2 innate lymphoid cells (ILC2s) to prevent the release of molecules causing asthma

  • Researcher: Dr Cathryn Weston is a researcher at the University of Leicester
  • Start date: 01 January 2020
  • How long will this project run for?: 45 months
  • Project type: Research Fellowship
  • Cost: £249,960.00

Project title: Ion channel regulation of type-2 innate lymphoid cell (ILC2) biology in asthma

Scientists have identified a new type of white blood cell that appears to be important in asthma. This cell, called a type 2 innate lymphoid cell (ILC2 for short), is found in the lungs and can make large amounts of proteins and fat-derived molecules that cause damage to lung tissue and narrow airways, causing asthma symptoms. Stopping the function of ILC2s might offer a new, more effective way of treating asthma. Ion channels are proteins in the outer membrane of cells that form holes to allow ions to move in and out of them. There are many different groups of ion channels and many drugs used today work by blocking individual channels. Blocking ion channels in ILC2s may therefore be a very effective way of stopping their activities that drive asthma. This work aims to identify the ion channels in human ILC2s and their roles in ILC2 function.


Potential impact: This research will find out whether blocking ion channels could be an effective treatment in steroid-resistant asthma.

 

2) Targeting IgE memory cells to treat asthma

  • Researcher: Dr Faruk Ramadani is a researcher at King's College London
  • Start date: 01 November 2019
  • How long will this project run for?: 36 months
  • Project type: Research Fellowship
  • Cost: £250,000.00

Project title: Role of PI3K p110δ in the generation and maintenance of human IgE memory responses


Allergic responses are triggered when a type of antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE) reacts to an allergen, e.g. pollen or dust, and activates the immune system. The IgE antibodies are produced by plasma cells. These cells can live for decades in the bone marrow of people with asthma and continuously produce allergen-specific IgE antibodies, which is called the IgE ‘memory response’. This is why a person may react to an allergen even after years of avoiding it. Therefore, the IgE memory cells are a prime target for treatment. The main objective of this study is to use existing drugs to switch off IgE production, and also understand how human IgE memory cells are created and survive by gene blocking and editing. This project will investigate the role of a particular enzyme, called PI3K p110δ, that may play a key role in the creation and long life of IgE memory cells and will investigate its role and the effects that stopping it will have.


Potential impact: This research is looking at new potential target “PI3K p110δ” and the effects that stopping it will have in people with allergic asthma, which could lead to new treatments.

 

3) The role of complex genetic variation in asthma and asthma types

  • Researcher: Dr Katherine Fawcett is a researcher at the University of Leicester
  • Start date: 01 December 2019
  • How long will this project run for?: 45 months
  • Project type: Research Fellowship
  • Cost: £249,714.00


Project title: The role of complex genetic variation in asthma and asthma types


This project aims to understand how and why asthma develops and find out new approaches for treating asthma. Dr Fawcett will do this by identifying inherited differences in DNA “structure” (large chunks of sequence) between different people that increase the risk of asthma. These variations can have a significant impact on our health and early studies have shown that they are important in asthma. Furthermore, identifying which structural variation an individual might carry could also allow us to understand the type of asthma that they have and how we can treat it. The aims of this study are to discover new structural variations that increase risk of asthma and identify how these structural variations influence asthma to help us to understand asthma types. Dr Fawcett will analyse whole DNA sequence data from 50,000 patient volunteers, 8,250 of whom have asthma from UK Biobank.


Potential impact: This research will identify DNA differences that are associated with an increased risk of asthma. This could allow us to understand different types of asthma and the best ways to treat it.

 

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 is looking at whether asthma symptoms are controlled by the biological clock involved in regulating lung function. With her research, she wants to find out 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, researchers can make better use of current asthma treatments. This study is also investigating 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.

Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research

The Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research is the first of its kind in the world. It brings together world-leading researchers from all over the UK and provides them with an unrivalled network of collaborators and resource to make differences in asthma research.

Applied research is community-based research that is undertaken to see if a drug, treatment or other intervention is effective when used in a clinical setting. Applied research often leads directly to improved care. Applied research puts people with asthma and their needs at the very heart of the work that is undertaken.

The Applied Centre complements our other research centre, the MRC-Asthma UK Centre in the Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma, which focuses on more lab-based work and understanding the biology of asthma.

As well as supporting cutting-edge research, the Applied Centre will establish some resources that can be used to improve asthma research in the long-term. These include data resources on a variety of asthma-related topics and a database of people with asthma who would be willing to take part in research trials, making recruitment easier and more successful. This is a crucial aspect of the Centre; as well as funding the best research now, we want to provide the best infrastructure to encourage more asthma research in the UK in the future.

You can read more about the research going on at the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research on their dedicated website.

 

Understanding the underlying biology of asthma

Improving diagnosis and the care that people with asthma receive