'Dust mite' tablet developed to treat allergic asthma in children

Doctors in Southampton are trialling a new tablet that could reduce the effects of allergic asthma in children with a house dust mite allergy.

The study, that’s taking place in the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, will see children with allergic asthma taking a tablet that contains a small dose of house dust mite. It’s hoped this will teach their bodies to accept it and trick their immune system to not cause a reaction.

“The tablet is very safe, with little to no long-term side effects, and has a good track record in older patients,” explained Professor Graham Roberts who is leading the study and is a specialist in paediatric allergy and respiratory medicine at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.

“Exposing children with allergic asthma to a small dose of whatever they are allergic to can reduce their body’s reaction to the trigger. This will, in turn, reduce the likelihood of asthma attacks and further problems in the future.”

Treating asthma

Allergic asthma is caused when a person has an allergic reaction to one or more triggers, such as dust mites and animal fur. Triggers cause exacerbations, or asthma attacks, that cause the airway to become swollen and inflamed, making it increasingly harder to breathe.

Asthma is usually treated with a blue inhaler to alleviate symptoms of wheeziness when an attack occurs, alongside a daily brown, purple or orange inhaler to stop the symptoms of wheezing developing.

Inhalers are often a successful treatment for most patients but may not be as effective in patients with allergic asthma as the treatment requires doctors to identify and deal specifically with the trigger that causes attacks.

Using immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that involves giving patients a gradually-increasing dose of a substance, or trigger, to which someone is allergic.

Slowly increasing doses of the trigger causes the immune system to become less sensitive to the substance. As the body becomes more exposed to the trigger, it produces more antibodies – which reduce the symptoms of the allergy when the substance is encountered in the future.

For this study, the trigger is the dust mite and participants will take a daily tablet that contains a small amount of house dust mite, in the hope it will reduce the body’s reaction to the trigger.

Transforming treatment

In a previous study looking at adults with house dust mite allergic asthma, the tablet produced positive results and showed the number of exacerbations and hospital visits reduced for each patient.

Professor Roberts hopes for similar results in his study, explaining that:

“Children’s asthma is a very different condition, and just because the tablet worked in adults doesn’t mean we can assume it will work in children too.

“We expect the treatment to work well, and given the tablet’s previous successes, we are hopeful that we can demonstrate the benefits of immunotherapy for children through this trial.”

Getting involved

Professor Roberts’ study is looking to recruit around 20 children to take part over the next 18 months. In order to take part, the child must be aged 6-16, living with asthma and using a regular inhaler every day. The study will involve monitoring for the next 18-24 months.

Posted on Monday 21 January 2019