Simple asthma screening test could improve care for children

Photo of a boy using an inhaler for the treatment of Asthma.
Photo of a boy using an inhaler for the treatment of Asthma.
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SCREENING children with asthma for a common genetic change could help prevent asthma attacks and lead to more effective treatments, according to Scottish scientists.

A study by the University of Aberdeen, of 4000 children with asthma, found that those with the gene change were 50 per cent more likely to suffer an attack when following a standard treatment plan.

They say a simple screening test could spare children from ‘trial and error’ treatment plans and let doctors know which asthma medication will work best.

Asthma treatment in children is usually straight forward and involves a steroid inhaler.

But 10 per cent of children with asthma still experience symptoms and move on to trying one of three more complications treatments.

Currently determining which of these three methods is most effective for an individual is a matter of trial and error.

Led by Dr Steve Turner, the findings by researchers from the University of Aberdeen, have been published today in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

The study focussed on a treatment called a long acting beta agonist (LABA) - a medication which causes the muscles lining the breathing tubes to relax and widen the airway.

Approximately 60 per cent of people have a change in the gene which makes the LABA work less well.

Children with the genetic change who were treated with other asthma medicines did not experience increased asthma attacks.

The study found that the presence of this genetic change made the LABA treatment less effective.

Dr Turner said: “The question is, ‘how do we match the right children to the right treatment?’. Our study shows that those with the gene change are more likely to suffer an attack because they are being treated with LABA, which is ineffective for them.

“So the implication of this finding is that routine testing for this very common gene may let physicians know which asthma treatment works best in children with asthma and spare them an unsuccessful ‘trial by treatment’.

“These findings now need to be properly tested in a clinical trial,” he added.