NEWCASTLE scientists have made an international breakthrough that has led them to create treatments shown in lab tests to stop asthma attacks.
Scientists from the Hunter Medical Research Institute led an international team of paediatric and respiratory researchers who have discovered the unique role two proteins in the lungs have in triggering asthma attacks.
They found that when these two lung proteins come into contact with the common cold virus and dust mites, the two main asthma triggers, they work together to unleash a chain of events that lead to an asthma attack.
The discovery has already helped them develop therapeutic treatments shown in laboratory tests on mice to prevent and treat asthma.
Their work is expected to be published today in the prestigious medical journal Nature Medicine.
Lead researcher Professor Joerg Mattes said they hoped treatments would be available for humans within a decade, possibly sooner.
The next step would be to develop targeted drugs and stage clinical trials.
"Such a discovery will not only enable us, but other asthma researchers worldwide, to develop drugs that target pathways," he said.
"It's very encouraging to have discovered a pathway that's so important," the researcher said.
The proteins, called midline-1 and protein phosphatase 2A, are generated in the innermost layer of the airways.
Researchers found when a virus or allergen hits the lungs, midline-1 levels go up, which in turn brings down levels of protein phosphatase 2A.
It is the protein phosphatase that typically deactivates other proteins responsible for inflammation and mucous production in the lungs, and with reduced levels patients have an asthma attack.
Researchers said the discovery meant they could treat the cause of asthma and not just the symptoms.
The National Health and Medical Research Council and HMRI funded the five-year project.
The University of Newcastle professor said the Hunter's elevated rate of asthma was part of the reason work was done in the region.
Up to 12 per cent of the region's adults have asthma and 14 per cent of children.
"We have a critical mass of world-class researchers in asthma," Professor Mattes said.
He said while the tests to date had involved adult cells they expected the results to benefit children with asthma.
Asthma causes 30,000 hospitalisations each year in Australia alone, many involving children.
Viruses are said to cause two-thirds of these asthma attacks.
"It is a very significant burden of disease."
Three-year-old Alice Spadari, of Islington, was diagnosed with asthma at 18 months of age and ended up in intensive care after her first two asthma attacks.
Her mother Roberta said the attacks were under better control now but were frequently triggered by childhood viruses she picked up at day-care.
She welcomed any new research that might help her daughter.
"We've got a good asthma plan now, it's much better managed."
Researchers from the University of NSW, the University of Cincinnati and the Imperial College, London took part in the investigation.