More than 670,000 asthmatics in Australia could breathe easier in future with University of Newcastle research investigating why they are resistant to conventional steroid treatment.
The research, featured as this month’s hot topic in international respiratory journal Thorax, explored the link between chronic bacterial infection and steroid-resistant asthma.
University of Newcastle researcher, Professor Phil Hansbro*, said some asthmatics were resistant to the conventional treatment of steroids and there were few treatments for these patients who often suffered more severe asthma.
“There is a strong imperative to better understand the factors that contribute to steroid resistance among asthma sufferers.”
Approximately 20-30 per cent of asthmatics have a severe form of the condition and many of them are resistant to steroids.
This subgroup of patients is important because they account for more than 50 per cent of asthma heath care costs. The relationship between chronic infection, asthma and steroid resistance has been unclear.
“Asthmatics with steroid-resistant asthma more commonly carry a bacterium called Haemophilus influenzaein their airways,” Professor Hansbro said.
“Our research has demonstrated that the combination of allergic airways disease and the Haemophilus influenzae bacteria drives chronic lung infection which, in turn, leads to the development of steroid-resistant disease.
“For the first time, we have clear evidence that targeting bacterial infection in patients with steroid-resistant asthma may have therapeutic benefits.
“This finding is likely to be important in guiding the future development of treatments that target the infection and reduce resistance to steroids.”
The research project was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, Hunter Medical Research Institute, the Australian Research Council and the University of Newcastle.
* Professor Hansbro leads the University of Newcastle’s Microbiology, Asthma and Airways Research Group in the Centre for Asthma and Respiratory Disease. It conducts research in collaboration with the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) Viruses, Infections/Immunity, Vaccines and Asthma Research Program. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.