Asthmatics may soon breathe easier thanks to new breakthrough -study

The research, culminating in a peer-reviewed study published in the European Respiratory Journal, focused on urine analysis; specifically on carnitines.

Asthma breathing sick inhaler 390 (photo credit: Thinkstock)
Asthma breathing sick inhaler 390
(photo credit: Thinkstock)

Researchers at Edith Cowan University in Australia and Sweden's Karolinska Institute may have found the key to a more effective treatment for asthma.

Asthma is a relatively common affliction. Dr. Stacey Reinke, from ECU’s Centre for Integrative Metabolomics and Computational Biology, said that “asthma affects 2.7 million Australians and there were 417 asthma-related deaths in Australia in 2020."

During a flare-up, one's airway narrows and swells, making it difficult to breathe. For some, this is barely noticeable or very rare. But others find themselves regularly in need of an emergency inhaler to stay alive. The most common treatment for any form of asthma, mild to severe, is oral corticosteroids (OCS) to reduce swelling; this usually looks like an inhaler. 

Inhalers may be preventative or curative.

An inhaler used to treat asthma (credit: NIAID/FLICKR)An inhaler used to treat asthma (credit: NIAID/FLICKR)

The research, culminating in a peer-reviewed study published in the European Respiratory Journal, focused on urine analysis – specifically on carnitines.

“These are preliminary results, but we will continue to investigate carnitine metabolism to evaluate its potential as a new asthma treatment target.”

Dr. Stacey Reinke

Carnitines are a type of metabolite - a substance produced or used when the body breaks down food, drugs, chemicals or tissue to make energy. Carnitines in particular are critical in providing energy for the body's cells, as well as supporting immune responses. 

Analyses showed more carnitine present in the urine of severe asthmatics. In other words, the more severely the subjects suffered from asthma, the less effectively their body seemed able to metabolize carnitines. 

Medical implications of the findings

“Severe asthma occurs when someone’s asthma is uncontrolled, despite being treated with high levels of medication and/or multiple medications," Reinke explained.

These findings open up the door to a world of potential asthma treatments that are metabolite-specific and focused on the body's cell activity. An effective, non-OCS asthma treatment would be a major medical advancement - and it may be on the not-too-distance horizon. 

Reinke concluded on a hopeful note, saying, “these are preliminary results, but we will continue to investigate carnitine metabolism to evaluate its potential as a new asthma treatment target.”