People who have asthma know how difficult it can be when it flares up. The wheezing, tightness in the chest, and the sensation that you are not getting enough air into your lungs not only make it difficult to do physical activities, it also makes it quite scary. Inhalers can help clear up the problems, but they only offer temporary relief for those who suffer its effects. And it is not just a small group of people who have asthma. According to the American lung association, there are almost 25 million Americans who suffer from it. In the world, there are approximately 300 million people who have it, and about a quarter of a million of them will die each year due to the issues related to asthma. Worse yet, the numbers keep increasing, and we are already spending $6 billion per year to treat the disease. Again, this is spent simply on controlling the symptoms. Wouldn’t it be great if we could do more than that, like actually prevent the disease from occurring in the first place?
Well, that is what scientists in New Zealand are hoping that they have accomplished. They have patented a drug that they say has proven to be an asthma vaccine in mice. The vaccine works by preventing the inflammation of the lungs and airways of those who have asthma. This makes it more of a preventive medication instead of reactive.
Obviously just because something works in mice doesn’t necessarily mean that it can be transferred to humans, but the scientists are hopeful. In fact, they are hopeful that they technology that they have created can be used to treat other allergies and diseases. What they have done is to create a vaccine that stimulates the growth of T-cells. T-cells are a class of cells that work as part of the immune system, as they go after and destroy infected cells in the body. In this particular case, the T-cells are going after the cells that hold the allergens that have brought on the asthma systems. One of the scientists working on the program says the method is equivalent to “taking out the generals of the enemy’s army in order to overpower it.” (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/10582301/City-scientists-patent-asthma-breakthrough).
The scientists believe that the vaccine would work over a long period of time, as it has in the mice that it has been tested on. Furthermore, it may be a breakthrough in overall medicine, not just asthma. In fact, one of the things that they believe it may also work on is treating cancer. Obviously this would make it that much more important of a discovery if this were true. For many, asthma, while annoying, is not life threatening. People learn to live with it. Cancer, however, is much different. Even though we are much more successful today at treating, cancer still takes the lives of around 7.5 million people each year around the world. In the United States, where we have access to some of the best medicine in the world, cancer still kills over a half million people each year. That is about 1500 people per day, which makes it the second most deadly disease in the United States (http://www.nanomedicinecenter.com/article/how-many-people-die-from-cancer-each-year/).
Thus, while this technology is still in its infancy, there are many reasons to hope that it will be successful.