Genes linked to childhood asthma 'identified'

For its research, an international team, led by the Imperial College London, looked at DNA from over 26,000 people and found several genetic variants that substantially increase susceptibility to asthma in children.

Most importantly, the research appears to show that allergies are a "side effect" of asthma, rather than causing the condition, the 'Daily Mail' reported. Prof William Cookson, who led the study, said that allergies seem to produce an extra layer of symptoms in people prone to asthma, instead of being a trigger.

"About 60 per cent of people with asthma suffer from some form of allergy;there's always been a close relationship. It has always been assumed allergies are driving the process and that is where the focus of research has been, without too much success," he was quoted as saying. Prof Cookson said that researchers now had the opportunity to target seven "accessible" genetic variants which should yield results in the near future. "One of the problems with asthma research has been choosing where to intervene in the disease pathways.

"Our study now highlights targets for effective asthma therapies, and suggests that therapies against these targets will be of use to large numbers of asthmatics. I would hope to see treatments using antibodies or drugs against them within 10 years; it's quite feasible," he said.

In fact, the research was performed by the GABRIEL consortium, a collaboration of 164 scientists from 19 countries in Europe, along with other groups in the UK, Canada and Australia.

It analysed DNA samples from 10,000 children and adults with asthma and 16,000 non-asthmatics. The scientists performed over half-a-million genetic tests on each subject, covering all the genes in the human genome.

The study pinpointed seven locations on the genome where differences in the genetic code were associated with asthma. Some of the genes are involved in signalling pathways that tell the immune system when the lining of the airways has been damaged. Other genes appear to control how quickly the airways heal after they have been injured.

Added Prof Miriam Moffatt, a team member: "As a result of genetic studies we now know that allergies may develop as a result of defects of the lining of the airways in asthma. "This does not mean that allergies are not important, but it does mean that concentrating therapies only on allergy will not effectively treat the whole disease."
The findings have been published in the 'New England Journal of Medicine'.

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