The common cold can quickly turn into a life-threatening asthma attack, and researchers are desperately trying to understand how to remedy this danger as the colder weather nears. UK researchers at the Medical Research Council (MRC) & Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma at Imperial College London and King's College London took a closer look into how the immune system responds to a sequence of sickening events, and published their findings in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

"Excitingly, this research, although still at an early stage, could potentially lead to the development of new medicines to prevent life threatening asthma attacks,” the study’s coauthor Samantha Walker, director of Research and Policy at Asthma UK, said in a press release. “Years of research underfunding means that asthma still remains a relative mystery and the millions of people with asthma need more studies like this to bring us one step closer to new treatments. Promisingly, we now have new technologies, talented asthma scientists, and international collaborations with the potential to make life-changing discoveries about asthma."

Researchers examined cells from the lungs of asthmatic volunteers in order to see what happens when it becomes infected with rhinovirus, and they found a small molecule called IL-25 plays a crucial role in accelerating sickness for those with asthma. Viruses that target a person’s airway cause 80 to 90 percent of asthma attacks, and the greatest offender is the common cold’s rhinovirus. It can trigger a cascade of dangerous asthmatic responses that could put a person in the hospital. However, researchers believe the sequence of events could be interrupted by targeting and blocking the IL-25.

With 235 million people suffering from asthma worldwide, it is by far the most common noncommunicable disease among children, according to the World Health Organization. The importance of understanding how to ease asthma symptoms to reduce the danger of a flare up that would obstruct a child or even an adult’s airway into a life or death situation.

"Asthma attacks are still a huge healthcare problem,” the study’s coauthor Sebastian Johnston, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, said in a press release. “Existing medication containing inhaled steroids, are highly effective at controlling regular asthma symptoms, but during an attack the symptoms worsen and can lead to the patient going to hospital. This new study provides exciting results about potential ways to address this big unmet medical need.”

Their next big step will be to block IL-25 in humans and then to investigate other possible pathways involved in asthma attacks and alternative ways to treat them, according to Johnston. The hope is that by creating a drug that could target and treat IL-25, researchers will be able to potentially discover a life-changing treatment for asthma sufferers.

Source: Walker S, Johnston S, Beale et al. 'Rhinovirus induced IL-25 in asthma exacerbation drives type-2 immunity and allergic pulmonary inflammation.' Science Translational Medicine, 2014.