Asthma expert warns treatment is 'not sufficient'

Peter HowarthA leading asthma expert has warned treatment for millions of people with the most severe form of the condition is “not sufficient”.

Professor Peter Howarth, a specialist in asthma and allergy at Southampton General Hospital, said a lack of understanding of the condition was stalling the development of new medication – putting the lives of sufferers at risk.

Around 10% of the 5.4 million people in the UK with asthma have the most severe form, which leaves them unable to control their symptoms, resulting in frequent attacks despite taking multiple high-strength medicines.

“While the majority of asthmatics are able to control their symptoms with medication, around one in ten have life-threatening symptoms and attacks for which current treatment is simply not sufficient,” he said.

“Severe attacks are a terrifying experience, but no-one has enough knowledge of the specifics of the condition to enable the development of targeted treatments, so we end up with 12,000 emergency admissions in Europe every year which, in some cases, prove fatal.”

Prof Howarth, who is a professor of allergy and respiratory medicine at the University of Southampton, is now leading a groundbreaking clinical project at the NIHR Southampton Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit designed to find clearer ways of diagnosing the condition by comparing the lung health of moderate and severe sufferers.

The study is part of a five-year European-wide initiative Unbiased BIOmarkers in PREDiction of respiratory disease outcomes (U-BIOPRED), which involves 18 centres and is led by the University of Amsterdam’s Professor Peter Sterk.

“This study gives us a chance, for the first time, to go outside of the comfort zone of developing better solutions for the majority and really specialise for a group which, until now, has ultimately been isolated,” added Prof Howarth, whose team needs to recruit 85 severe and 25 mild to moderate sufferers.

Participants will undergo a range of tests, including sputum, blood and breath, which will be analysed using a state of the art technique that can measure thousands of details in a substance within hours – previous methods could assess only two to three and took months or years to complete.

These measurements will be put together using advanced mathematics to identify the type of severe asthma present and give specific information about each individual.

Lisa Aitken, the project’s lead research nurse, said: “This is an extremely exciting study which will give participants from Southampton a chance to play a part in something that is likely to have major implications in the treatment of asthma worldwide.”

Anyone interested in finding out more about the study can contact the research team on 023 8120 8427 or 023 8120 4597.

Posted on Wednesday 14 November 2012