Researchers Identify Gene Linked to Childhood Asthma

childinhalerU.S. researchers have identified a gene that is linked to childhood asthma. The discovery may one day lead to new treatments for this debilitating disease, which affects 9 million children in the U.S.

The study, published in the Jan. 7 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, compared the genetics of 793 white children with moderate to severe asthma to a control group of 1,988 healthy children. Researchers then repeated the study on large groups of European and African-American children. The researchers found a new gene, called DENND1B, that was associated with asthma.

The DENND1B gene and its protein are involved in the release of cytokines, signaling molecules which tell the immune system how to respond to foreign particles such as viruses and allergens. A mutation in the DENND1B gene could contribute to an inappropriate immune response in children with asthma.

Though exciting, the new discovery should not be viewed as an all-encompassing cause of asthma. Experts believe that a large number of genes, most of which are still unknown, play a role in the development of the disease. Only one other gene linked to asthma has been found so far. That gene, called ORMDL3, was discovered on chromosome 17 in 2007.

According to the National Institutes of Health, asthma affects approximately 20 million people in the U.S. Companies working to treat asthma include Asthmatx, which is developing an asthma treatment based on radio-frequency energy; Aerovance, whose drug candidate Aerovant is undergoing Phase II clinical trials for moderate to severe asthma; Synairgen, which has collected a “Biobank” of samples from asthma patients to further its asthma research program; and Vectura, whose pipeline includes inhaled formulations for the treatment of asthma.

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