Researchers at the MRC-Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma and Cardiff University found that people with asthma have more of a special type of calcium receptor in their lungs than people without asthma.
Called calcium-sensing receptors or CaSR, they sit on the surface of a cell, respond to chemicals in the environment such as pollutants or allergens that trigger asthma.
The scientists later found that a class of drugs called calcilytics can inhibit CaSRs.
‘Calcilytic’ drugs can reverse or abolish twitchiness of the airways which are responsible for the symptoms of asthma, say researchers.
Existing drugs, such as preventer inhalers, address this problem only indirectly, by reducing the inflammation of the airways which is thought to be one of the triggers for this twitchiness, while reliever inhalers make the muscle cells relax, temporarily alleviating the blockage.
By using calcilytic drugs, the cause of the twitchiness can be directly targeted, instead of working on the reaction, regardless of what has caused it. It can thus treat all asthma.
The challenge now is to develop a form of these drugs which can be inhaled safely to the airways and then explore their effects in people with asthma.
The next logical step will be clinical trials to see if the drugs work.