Scientists unveil asthma breakthroughIt may help patients with severe symptoms

29 March 2007

A potential breakthrough treatment for asthma sufferers has been unveiled by British scientists.

Researchers have found that treating severely affected patients with bronchial thermoplasty, or specially-heated air fed into the lungs, leads to ‘significant’ improvements.

During a year-long global trial, sufferers involved showed a decrease in asthma attacks, a marked increase in days with no asthma symptoms, and a reduction in rescue medication use.

They also exhibited a general improvement in asthma-related quality of life.

Asthma trial

More than 112 patients in four countries took part in the trial, which was led by a team from Glasgow University.

It monitored their asthma attacks, daily lung function, and rescue medication use over 12 months.

Treated patients experienced around 10 fewer asthma attacks per year, were free of their asthma symptoms an average of 86 additional days per year, and required significantly less rescue medication, doctors said.

Immediately after the trial finished, researchers found the patients reverted to their previous levels of breathlessness, wheezing and coughing.

New treatment

The research was led by Glasgow University's professor of respiratory medicine, Neil Thomson, at the city's Gartnavel General hospital.

His findings are published today in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

Prof Thomson said: ‘These findings are very encouraging and are consistent with earlier trial results on bronchial thermoplasty.

‘These results make us hopeful that bronchial thermoplasty may be a new option for patients with severe asthma who have symptoms despite use of current drug therapies.’

Inhalers

Asthma is one of the world's most common diseases, and causes airways to the lungs to tighten.

There are an estimated 5.2 million people in the UK receiving treatment for the condition, which is traditionally treated with inhalers.

Bronchial thermoplasty, which has been researched for the past few years, delivers thermal energy to the lungs' airway walls, to reduce the tissue that contributes to airway constriction.

It is performed under light sedation via a tube that runs through a patient's nose or mouth and into their lungs.

The procedure is completed in three treatment sessions, each lasting less than one hour and spaced apart by about three weeks, with patients allowed home on the same day.

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