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Respiratory Disease Breakthrough

A ground-breaking discovery has found a process in the body that leads to chronic respiratory conditions, offering new hope to sufferers of emphysema.

University of Newcastle respiratory researchers Professor Phil Hansbro, Bernadette Jones and Dr Andrew Jarnicki, along with a team from the University of Bonn in Germany, found that sinister specks of a molecule known as ASC are escaping from cells and then coursing through the body to exacerbate the biological inflammatory response in major airway diseases such as asthma and emphysema.

In shedding new light on an immunological factor known as the inflammasome, it potentially takes researchers closer to being able to inhibit inflammatory conditions at their genesis.

Professor Hansbro says the process occurs during the body’s initial “non-specific” immune response to pathogenic challenges, often preventing further infection by destroying the bacteria and viruses before they reproduce. However the specks retain their ability to trigger inflammation even after the demise of the original cell.

“Humans suffer a lot of inflammatory diseases – asthma, emphysema, arthritis, pneumonia and so on – and we’re now thinking that we may have an overactive baseline inflammatory response,” Professor Hansbro added. “Because it’s active all the time, it drives this continual cycle of inflammation … it becomes exaggerated and uncontrollable, which could underpin why we get asthma attacks or COPD exacerbations for example.

The finding is set to spur the development of drugs that either target the ASC specks themselves or the initial inflammasome source.

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