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A life-changing new approach to treating asthma

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Action funding helped to support a groundbreaking clinical trial, which showed that personalising asthma medication, according to genetic make-up, can improve treatment and quality of life for children and young people. The results are creating an impact across the world and are already having a life-changing effect for some young people.

Teenage boy in sports clothes using a blue asthma inhaler.

Asthma causes coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing – and is a leading cause of emergency hospital admission in children and young people. When the condition is managed well, children can lead a full and active life. But when it’s not, it can severely limit their ability to play, run and be active, and affect attendance at school.

Evidence had been emerging that one of the most commonly used asthma controller medications, called salmeterol, was not equally effective in all children. This means that some do not see the expected benefits and continue to experience symptoms, including asthma attacks.

With Action funding of more than £270,000, an expert team, led by Professor Somnath Mukhopadhyay at Brighton’s Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital, ran an exciting clinical trial. The first of its kind, this trial involved 240 children aged 12 or over and tested prescribing treatment based on genetics. This is an approach known as personalised medicine.

A cheap, simple saliva test was used to determine children’s genetic make-up. They were then prescribed either salmeterol or another drug called montelukast, according to the results of the test. The research showed that a personalised approach could significantly improve children’s response to treatment and therefore their quality of life, compared to standard care.

The trial results have since been publicised widely and have been used to create a shift in awareness of differing treatment options. This is already improving clinical practice, informing General Practitioner training in the UK, and has been formalised within treatment guidelines in Australia. “This work is having much positive impact in the UK, and across the world, says Professor Mukhopadhyay.

In the UK alone, an estimated 150,000 children with asthma have the genetic make-up that means salmeterol is likely to be less effective. As a result of this research, life-changing care is now being provided for some of these children. The hope is this will extend to help many more, worldwide, in the near future.

Action’s funding was critical in supporting the first-ever clinical trial of this kind of precision medicine for children’s asthma”

Professor Somnath Mukhopadhyay

We are grateful to the many trusts and foundations who helped us support this research, including The Henry Smith Charity.