An international study featured in The Lancet, led by the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR), has identified two new genetic variants that increase the risk of asthma.
Lead researcher, Dr Manuel Ferreira from QIMR said the findings suggest that a drug currently used to treat rheumatoid arthritis may be effective to treat asthma.
“Asthma impacts one in 10 Australians and can have a debilitating effect on their quality of life. Despite this, we still know very little about what causes asthma, which is essential to develop improved treatments,” Dr Ferreira said.
Dr Ferreira leads the largest Australian study of asthma genetics – the Australian Asthma Genetics Consortium – which has brought together the top asthma experts from across the country to try to identify genes that increase the risk of developing asthma.
“In this study, we compared the DNA of thousands of asthma patients with that of individuals who do not suffer from asthma,” Dr Ferreira said.
“After combining our results with other international studies, we identified two regions of the DNA that were consistently different between asthmatics and non-asthmatics: one is located in the interleukin-6 receptor (IL6R) gene on chromosome 1 and the other near a gene called GARP on chromosome 11.
“Of these two, the first is particularly interesting because interleukin-6 plays an important role in the immune system and inflammation. It is involved in many diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis.
“Together with previous findings, our results indicate that because of this genetic difference, asthma patients produce more interleukin-6 receptor than non-asthmatics which, in turn, contributes to airway inflammation.
“This suggests that a drug used to block the interleukin-6 receptor for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis could be considered for clinical trials to prevent or reduce the airway inflammation associated with asthma.
“Although it is too early to tell whether a safe and effective interleukin-6 therapy will indeed emerge in the near future, results from this study already provide key insights into the complex mechanisms that cause asthma.”