Childhood Asthma Caused By Specific Genetic Variant
November 18, 2013

Potential New Genetic Cause Of Asthma Discovered By Researchers

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

An international team of scientists has identified the primary genes that place some children at high risk of severe childhood asthma, according to research published Sunday in the journal Nature Genetics.

Dr. Klaus Bønnelykke, a senior researcher at the Copenhagen Prospective Studies on Asthma in Childhood (COPSAC), the Danish Pediatric Asthma Center, Copenhagen University Hospital, and his colleagues believe that the specific gene variant they discovered could be an actual cause of this type of asthma, which is a leading cause of hospitalization in younger children.

One of the genes they located had not previously been implicated in the disease, the University of Copenhagen said in a statement. Dr. Bønnelykke’s team believes that their research could ultimately improve treatment options for youngsters suffering from the disease, which imposes a large financial burden on their families as well as on society as a whole, and might help open the door to individualized asthma treatments.

“Because asthma is a complex disease, with multiple interacting causes, we concentrated on a specific phenotype—severe, recurrent asthma occurring between ages two and six,” said co-lead author Dr. Hakon Hakonarson, director of the Center for Applied Genomics at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). “Identifying a risk susceptibility gene linked to this phenotype may lead to more effective, targeted treatments for this type of childhood asthma.”

As part of their research, the authors examined 1,200 Danish children between the ages of two and six who had been hospitalized for asthma at least twice. Their DNA was screened for potential risk genes, and their data was then compared to that from 2,500 healthy youngsters. The study findings, along with subsequent research of children from Denmark, the US, the UK, Spain and the Netherlands confirmed the discovery of a new risk gene (CDHR3).

“Although good asthma medication is available today, it doesn't work for everyone. Specifically we need effective medicine to prevent very young children from being hospitalized and to treat them once they have been admitted. That's why we started looking at this particular group,” Dr. Bønnelykke said. “Because asthma symptoms are fairly similar in all children, doctors tend to approach the condition in the same way.”

“However, in reality asthma has many different underlying mechanisms, which need to be individually mapped,” he added. “We know that children exposed to smoking have a higher risk of asthma attacks, but beyond that, none of our advice has really helped, and we won't make any progress until we understand the individual sub-types of asthma and their underlying mechanisms. In this respect knowledge about risk genes is an important step in the right direction.”