Boosting the body’s defence against lung inflammation

May 6 2014

Laureate Professor Paul Foster

Respiratory researcher Laureate Professor Paul Foster is developing new anti-inflammatory approaches to treat asthma and lung infections. One promising approach is to boost the body’s own defence systems against infections, especially against those that trigger asthma.

He believes that controlling inflammatory responses in the lung, by arming immune cells to better fight infection, may lead to better treatments.

With World Asthma Day (May 6) shedding light on the fact that more than 300 million asthma sufferers globally, Professor Foster’s critical breakthroughs could have far-reaching implications.

“Many of the 250,000 deaths annually caused by chronic respiratory disorders are attributed to poor immune responses to infections. Developing new ways of boosting the immune response could be very beneficial for the treatment of chronic lung infections and those linked to asthma,” Professor Foster said.

“Steroids are the conventional treatment for asthma but they can have side effects and do not cure the disease.

Steroids may also dampen the immune response to infection and exacerbate disease. Also, not everyone is responsive to steroids and within that non-responsive group there is a lot of morbidity.

“Viral infections play a key role in making asthma worse and bacterial infections are also emerging as important triggers. Asthmatics often end up with lung infections and under those conditions the immune system doesn’t always function that well to clear the infection.”

One of the major breakthroughs in Professor Foster’s research involves the role of microRNA, which regulate protein production in human cells and can regulate inflammation linked to asthma.

“After investigating the role of microRNA in clearing bacteria in the lung we were able to show that these molecules can enhance the function of the immune cell, making them more active so that they can clear the infection faster,” Professor Foster said.

Professor Foster is the leader of HMRI’s VIVA program and Director of the University of Newcastle’s Priority Research Centre for Asthma and Respiratory Disease.