EDITORIAL: Hunter role in asthma research

FOR tens of thousands of Hunter residents asthma is a condition that is a feature of their daily lives. Whether it is taking a preventer inhaler in the morning or making sure they pack their ventolin, it is something they constantly have to manage. 

Statistically up to 12per cent of the region’s adults and 14per cent of its children have the chronic condition, roughly some 70,000 people.

While for many asthma is just something to be aware of, for others it can be debilitating. Children especially end up in hospital frequently if they pick up a common cold or their asthma is aggravated by dust mites.

NSW Health figures show there were 1208 asthma-related hospitalisations in the Hunter New England area in 2010-11.

Asthma is an insidious condition that can, and does, kill. This is particularly true among patients who cannot, or simply will not, manage their illness by sticking to their asthma management plan.

Research published today by Hunter Medical Research Institute scientists represents a major breakthrough. For the first time researchers have nutted down to the cause of asthma and the unique interplay of proteins that spark asthma attacks. It means instead of taking an inhaler to treat a symptom, inflammation of the lungs, researchers can develop medicines to treat its root cause.

It is a shining example of the world-class research being produced by the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Health through the Hunter Medical Research Institute. It’s also evidence of research and development funding hard at work for the betterment of society.

The region is flush with international asthma specialists and working together they have produced results for the Hunter, which unfortunately has high asthma rates.

This is a sad fact that some have suggested may be linked to the industry and coal dust that pervades the region, particularly the Upper Hunter.

The only bad news for sufferers is that medications suitable for human consumption could be up to a decade away. Researchers are confident medications could be on the market sooner than that but the need to develop drugs with minimal side effects and rigorous clinic trials will definitely slow the process. When this is combined with the grinding wheel of medical bureaucracy it’s hard not to feel frustrated on behalf of people with asthma.

Having to wait  another decade before getting any relief may  be too long for many.

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