An international team of scientists has announced findings that could help develop a new treatment for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The breakthrough, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, identifies a class of drugs that reverse the symptoms.
Researchers also found the same drugs, when applied to lung samples obtained from human donors, showed effects similar to those seen in the animal models.
Scientists believe these combined findings offer new hope these drugs could provide new medicines for human inflammatory lung diseases.
Andrew Tobin, professor of molecular pharmacology at the University of Glasgow, said: “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.
“We are optimistic that we can extend our findings and develop a new drug treatment of asthma and COPD.”
The drugs used by the Glasgow team work through a mechanism that is distinct from currently prescribed medicines for asthma and COPD.
Findings describe a route to alternative treatments for patients suffering from severe forms of the conditions, that are not controlled by current frontline treatments.
The new approach is centred on the activation of a protein that has previously been known to respond to fats contained in our diet.
The protein, called free fatty acid receptor 4 (FFA4), is found in the gut and pancreas, where it is activated by dietary fats including the fish oil omega 3.
Once activated FFA4 is known to help control levels of glucose in blood.
The Glasgow team found the receptor is also present in human lung.
By designing a new class of drugs, researchers found the muscle that surrounds the airways relaxes allowing more air to enter the lung.
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They also found activators of FFA4 also reduced inflammation caused by exposure of mice to pollution, cigarette smoke and allergens like house dust mite that cause asthma.
They established that activating the receptor can reverse key hallmarks of inflammatory lung disease heralding the prospect of new drugs for treatment.
Professor Graeme Milligan, gardiner chairman of biochemistry at the University of Glasgow, said: “We were delighted to see the effectiveness of this class of drugs in relieving the symptoms caused not only by agents that result in asthma but also by pollutants and cigarette smoke.”