Researchers from the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and the University of Technology Sydney in Australia have identified a protein in the lungs that, once activated, could allow patients with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to breathe more easily.
Previous research has found that a protein present in the gut and pancreas known as 'free fatty acid receptor 4' (FFA4) can be activated by dietary fats to regulate glucose levels in the blood. In the most recent study, however, the researchers found that the protein also lives in the human lungs.
Studying it more closely, they then found that targeting the FFA4 receptor in the lungs was able to reduce swelling and difficulty breathing among those with asthma and COPD. To do so, they developed a new class of drugs that activate FFA4 in the lungs of mice. Relaxing the muscles around their airways, the drug not only enabled more air to enter their lungs but also reduce inflammation caused by pollution, cigarette smoke, and allergens, including dust mites.
"It was indeed a surprise to find that by targeting a protein that up to now has been thought of as being activated by fish oils in our diet we were able to relax airway muscle and prevent inflammation," says Andrew Tobin, one of the study's authors. "We are optimistic that we can extend our findings and develop a new drug treatment of asthma and COPD."
Although promising, the research is still in very early stages, and thus it will take some time for the drugs to be tested out in human trials and eventually make it to clinical use. Ultimately, however, the researchers hope that their discovery will go on to develop into new medicines for patients that don't respond to existing treatments for both asthma and COPD.