Asthma affects more than 300 million people worldwide, with Australian’s suffering more from asthma (one in ten) than almost any other people in the world. Asthma is a major burden on Australia’s health care system and the economy. It can affect people of all ages - some people get asthma when they are young, others when they are older.

Asthma, a condition of the airways, is characterised by recurrent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing. People with asthma have sensitive airways in their lungs which react to triggers (such as allergens, pollutant, chemicals and mould) that set off their asthma, making it harder for them to breathe.

There has not been a major treatment for asthma in the past 3 decades. Furthermore, the major focus in asthma research has been on the allergic inflammatory aspects. However, not everyone who suffers from an allergy develops asthma. This indicates that there are specific mechanisms at tissue and cellular level associated with asthma. It is important to not only recognise, but to also continue research into this fundamental area, which is crucial to understand the underlying mechanisms of the disease in order to be able to produce effective prevention or treatments for a wider range of asthma sufferers.

Our research investigates the structure and function of epithelium in asthma. The epithelium is the thin tissue lining the outer layer of airway surface and is the first protective barrier between inhaled exogenous agents and the internal environment of the lung. In asthmatics, the epithelium fails to defend the lung against mild inhaled agents. Our general hypothesis is that the structure and function of epithelium is abnormal in asthmatics. We investigate the role of microRNAs; a distinct class of regulators of biological processes, and their targets on epithelial cells proliferation or differentiation hence restoring airway epithelium integrity. In order to achieve our goals we use the state of art technologies including; a range of tissue culture, proteomic and genomic techniques. The outcomes of our research will reveal the cellular and molecular processes related to the development and progression of asthma.

This proposal is a novel approach to understand the pathology of asthma by targeting epithelium. Epithelium is the initial contact point of airways with outside environment. Airway epithelium can be therefore the target of topical interventions resulting in quick onset and minimum systemic side effects. Hence Epithelium is an excellent target for new strategic interventions for asthma prevention and/or treatment. Our research focus and aims are aligned with the research focuses in the HMRI Viruses, Infections/Immunity, Vaccines and Asthma (VIVA) and Priority Research Centre Asthma and Respiratory Diseases at the University of Newcastle.


Dr Fatemeh Moheimani, Professor Darryl Knight

Project type 
Project Grant
Year of funding