Tag Archives: asthma

A protein in our pancreas and lungs could help treat asthma

Research using animal models and human tissue samples found a new potential avenue of treatment for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Human alveolar tissue seen under the microscope.
Image credits Yale Rosen / Flickr.

An international research team reports that activation of a protein called free fatty acid receptor 4 (FFA4) in lung tissue can help reverse hallmark symptoms of asthma such as inflammation and obstruction of the airways in patients resistant to current treatments.

While the effect has not yet been confirmed in living human patients, the results warrant continued research into drugs that can target and interact with this protein, say the authors.

A breath of fresh air

“By the identification of this new mechanism we offer the hope for new effective medicines for those patients that are not responsive to our current treatments,” says Professor Christopher Brightling, an author on the paper from the University of Leicester.

The study identifies an existing class of medication that can interact with the FFA4 protein in model animals and human tissue samples to address the condition. FFA4 is found in cells in the gut and pancreas and helps to control blood glucose levels. Dietary fats, most notably omega 3 oils from fish, are known to activate this protein.

First, the team found that this protein is also present in lung tissues, which they called “surprising”. Furthermore, they found that activating FFA4 in mouse lung tissue causes smooth muscle surrounding the airways to relax, allowing more air to flow in. This effect also worked to reduce inflammation caused by exposure to pollution, cigarette smoke, or allergens. Cells in human lung tissue reacted in a similar way, they add.

Because this mechanism is different from the ones used for current asthma and COPD medication, it could prove to be an effective avenue of treatment for unresponsive or severe cases.

“It was indeed a surprise to find that by targeting a protein — which up to now has been thought of as being activated by fish oils in our diet — we were able to relax airway muscle and prevent inflammation,” says Andrew Tobin, Professor of Molecular Pharmacology at the University of Glasgow. “We are optimistic that we can extend our findings and develop a new drug treatment of asthma and COPD.”

With air pollution reaching worrying levels across the world, asthmatic patients are likely to see worsening symptoms. Such medication could help complement our current treatments to help preserve their health and quality of life.

The paper, “Pathophysiological regulation of lung function by the free fatty acid receptor FFA4,” has been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Asthma is surprisingly uncommon among COVID-19 patients who died in New York

Credit: Pixabay.

At the start of the outbreak, many medical professionals were worried that patients with asthma may be a particularly vulnerable group for COVID-19. After all, asthma can make breathing difficult and trigger coughing and COVID-19 is known to cause very aggressive forms of pneumonia in severe cases. However, among the thousands of people who died in New York due to the coronavirus, those with asthma didn’t even make the top 10 list of comorbidities.

Just 5% of coronavirus deaths in New York involved patients with asthma

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by the novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), is an acute respiratory disease that can lead to respiratory failure and death.

Bearing this in mind, one might anticipate that those with chronic respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma, would be at a greater risk for the most severe symptoms of COVID-19.

As the outbreak started to unfold in the United States, many took to pharmacies, depleting stocks of some antibiotics and antiviral medicines, as well as albuterol, a common asthma inhaler medication. About 25 million people living in the United States have asthma.

However, it’s striking to see respiratory illnesses so underrepresented in comorbidities reported for patients with COVID-19.

According to the New York Times, data on hospitalized cases and deaths due to COVID-19 suggests that asthma doesn’t make it in the top 10 comorbidities.

Only 5% of COVID-19 deaths in New York state were among asthmatic patients, although the condition is prevalent in about 8% of the country’s population. However, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is more common among the elderly than asthma, made it on the list at #7.

The top 10 COVID-19 comorbidities listed by New York, in order, were:

  • hypertension
  • diabetes
  • high cholesterol coronary artery disease
  • dementia
  • atrial fibrillation (a heart condition)
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • renal disease
  • cancer
  • congestive heart failure

From this list, it seems like morbid obesity, diabetes, and chronic heart disease are much more dangerous than asthma.

These findings are supported by a commentary published on April 3rd in the journal The Lancet, which concluded asthma was heavily under-represented in COVID-19 comorbidities from China, Canada, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

While these findings suggest that asthma doesn’t increase the risk of developing the worst COVID-19 outcomes, these are based on preliminary data. As more robust data becomes available, we’ll have a more accurate picture of how asthma fits into the COVID-19 comorbidity roster. So, asthma patients should continue to exercise great caution.

For now, this is all quite positive news, considering the concerns of many patients with asthma. For instance, it could be that those with chronic respiratory disease have a different immune response that may even protect them against COVID-19, but this remains to be seen as more studies look into this.

Asthma drug might treat COVID-19 pneumonia

After a former passenger disembarked in Hong Kong tested positive for the virus on 1 February, Japanese authorities stopped the Diamond Princess from sailing off the coast of the country. For more than two weeks, more than 2,600 guests and crew were stuck onboard in quarantine.

As of March 6 in 2020, the total number of confirmed cases with coronavirus (COVID-19) on the cruise ship Diamond Princess, which is docked Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan, reached 696 patients. Six passengers have died as a result of the virus.

Much has been written about the failures of the Diamond Princess, many claiming that the quarantine could haven been handled a lot better, potentially saving lives. But, at least there is also some good news to come out of this situation.

After receiving news from the National Institute of Infectious Diseases that an asthma drug could be effective against respiratory diseases, Japanese doctors administered the drug to patients onboard the cruise ship who had pneumonia.

The Diamond Princess cruise ship. Credit: Bernard Spragg. NZ, Flickr.

The doctors from the Ashigarakami hospital in Kanagawa Prefecture gave the asthma drug to three patients, all over 65 years of age and on oxygen support. The drug called Ciclesonide is a a steroid inhalant that suppresses the immune system. Ciclesonide reaches the lungs where it can reduce inflammation.

Remarkably, all three patients improved their pneumonia symptoms within two days. One of the patients, a 73-year-old woman, was even discharged.

Of course, this is very small sample size but even so, the results are highly promising. If the results can be replicated by other institutions across hundreds of patients, we might have a new powerful tool in our arsenal against COVID-19. That being said, you shouldn’t self-medicate with the asthma drug if you think you have COVID-19 — always seek professional medical help first.

As of March 10, there are over 115,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world, with 4,051 fatalities.

“Farm air” can protect children from asthma

Your grandma was probably right: rural, farm-like air is better for your health, at least asthma-wise. The key? Microbes.

Farm air might ward off asthma, the new study reports.

In recent years, the incidence of asthma in children has been increasing. Although the causes are not exactly clear, the phenomenon has been linked with urbanization, and particularly the lack of certain microbes. The relationship between the microbial world and asthma is not well understood, but there does seem to be a connection between the two. Researchers also figured out something strange: children on farms don’t really get asthma. Now, they’re starting to understand why this is happening.

Previous research has suggested that exposure to rural house dust can reduce the incidence of asthma, although it’s not exactly clear what particular species of the microbiota contribute to this.

Researchers from Finland led by Pirkka Kirjavainen studied the indoor dust microbiota from the rural and suburban homes of 395 Finnish children. They discovered a very distinct pattern associated with farm homes — a pattern which was not present in urban areas.

“The microbial composition in farm homes was clearly distinct from that in non-farm homes,” the researchers write.

The lower incidence of asthma in rural areas is well known, but the team wanted to see if this can be traced to or compared with the microbiota. So they replicated the microbe patterns found in farms and applied it to the homes of 1,031 German children, showing a reduced risk of asthma in children living in non-farm homes where the microbiota resembled that of the Finnish farm homes. This strongly supports the idea that the microbes themselves were providing the asthma-protective effect.

“The indoor dust microbiota composition appears to be a definable, reproducible predictor of asthma risk and a potential modifiable target for asthma prevention,” the team continues.

It may seem counterintuitive that microbes have a protective effect, but by this point, it’s not exactly surprising. Although there are some substantial knowledge gaps on this issue, it’s become increasingly clear that the microbiota plays a much more important role than we thought, affecting our bodies in a number of ways. Since the dawn of our species, humans have adapted to live in rich microbial communities, and urbanization is changing that faster than the microbiota can adapt.

This isn’t the first study to find that farm air wards asthma. Future research will attempt to better define the species responsible for this phenomenon and better study how their protective effect can be replicated to reduce the asthma risk for children.


Eating bad PUFAs may put you at risk of developing asthma — but fish contains the good PUFAs

A new study from the James Cook University suggests fish might be the best prevention against asthma.


Image via Pixabay.

One innovative new study finds evidence that a diet rich in fish can help prevent asthma. Led by Professor Andreas Lopata from JCU’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM), the study involved 642 people who work in a fish processing factory in a small village in South Africa.

Fishy breathing

 “Asthma incidence has nearly doubled in the past 30 years and about half of asthma patients do not get any benefit from the drugs available to treat it. So there’s a growing interest in non-drug treatment options,” Lopata says.

Around 334 million people worldwide have asthma, and about a quarter of a million people die from it every year. In Australia, one in nine have asthma (about 2.7 million), and among Indigenous Australians, this rate is almost twice as high. Professor Lopata says one hypothesis researchers are considering right now is that the rise of asthma may be tied to modern dietary changes.

“There is an increasing consumption of what is known as the n-6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid (PUFA) found in vegetable oils and a decline in consumption of n-3 PUFA, which is mainly found in marine oils. Crudely, there has been a global move from fresh fish to fast food,” he said.

The village in question has been chosen for the study as its population records high fish consumption and low socioeconomic status. Overall, this makes it likely that marine oils from fish and other seafood would be the main source of n-3 for the people living in the area rather than supplements.

Certain types of n-3 PUFAs, specifically those obtained from marine oils, were “significantly associated” with a lower risk of developing asthma or asthma-like symptoms, the team reports. Consumption of these compounds lowered the chance of an individual developing asthma or asthma-like symptoms by 62%, while high consumption of n-6 PUFAs — from vegetable oils — increased risk by up to 67%.

“Even if you factor in contaminants such as mercury found in some fish populations, the benefits of fish and seafood intake far more outweighs the potential risks,” said Professor Lopata.

The findings are encouraging, he adds, but very early. Further research is needed to see which specific types of n-3 PUFAs are beneficial against asthma and how to best optimize their role. At the same time, we should also look into whether we can limit the negative effects of n-6, he adds.

The paper “Relationship between Serum Omega-3 Fatty Acid and Asthma Endpoints” has been published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Short-term exposure to air pollution may be deadly for people with asthma

A few days’ exposure to ambient air pollution was associated with increased risk of death from asthma according to a team of researchers Sun Yat-sen University, Hubei Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Meteorological Information Center, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, and the Institute of Chronic Noncommunicable Disease Control and Prevention in China.

Previous studies have linked short-term exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and ground-level ozone (O3) in asthma sufferers to increased symptoms, exacerbation, and hospital emergency department visits, but this new study is among the first to show a link between short-term exposure and death from asthma. The study was published online in the American Thoracic Society journal: American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine.

The research team analyzed mortality records from approximately 4,500 people who died of asthma in a province of the nation with a population of 59 million people and over 50 air quality monitoring stations.

“Given that short-term exposure to air pollution has been associated with increased risk of death from a variety of causes, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), we hypothesized that air pollution might increase the risk of death from asthma,” said Yuewei Liu, PhD of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China.

Liu and co-investigators used a case-crossover design along with conditional logistic regression modeling to analyze the data. Exposures to PM2.5, PM10, sulfur dioxide (SO2), NO2, carbon monoxide (CO), and O3 were estimated using inverse distance weighted averages of all air quality monitoring stations within 50 kilometers of the home address of each deceased case.

For each asthma mortality identified, the case day was defined as the death date, and the death case also served as his or her own control. Control days were defined as the days in the same year and month as the death day that shared the same day of the week to control for confounding effects by day of week, long-term trend, and seasonality (3 or 4 control days).

The team used inverse distance weighting (ID) to assess air pollutant exposures. Locations of monitoring stations and case home addresses were geocoded, and for each asthma death, the researchers estimated air pollution exposure on the day of death by calculating the inverse distance weighted average of concentrations at all monitoring stations within 50 km of the home address on each of the case and control days.

Odds ratios (ORs) for asthma mortality associated with each interquartile range (IQR) increase of exposure to PM2.5 (lag 3 day exposure; IQR: 47.1 μg/m3), NO2 (lag 3; IQR: 26.3 μg/m3), and O(lag 3; IQR: 52.9 μg/m3) were 1.07 (95% CI, 1.01-1.12), 1.11 (95% CI, 1.01-1.22), and 1.09 (95% CI, 1.01-1.18), respectively.

Sex, age, and season also did not appear to significantly modify the associations between short-term exposure to air pollution and asthma mortality, with the exception that the association for O3 was only identified among cases who died before the age of 80 and in the warm season.

Further studies are needed to confirm the findings in other populations but the results provide new evidence that short-term exposures to PM2.5, NO2 and O3 may increase asthma mortality risk. The findings also highlight the need for those with asthma to take effective measures — staying indoors with an air purifier or wearing a mask — to reduce air pollution exposure when those levels are very high.


Credit: Pixabay.

Unhealthy weight responsible for 1 in 4 cases of asthma in obese children

Nearly 10% of all pediatric cases of asthma could be avoided if childhood obesity were eliminated, according to researchers at Nemours Children’s Health System. In raw numbers, almost one million children in the U.S. might have avoided the illness by maintaining a healthy weight.

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

Asthma is a respiratory condition marked by attacks of spasm in the bronchi of the lungs, causing difficulty in breathing. It is usually connected to an allergic reaction or other forms of hypersensitivity. Usually, the condition is caused by genetics and viral infections during childhood, which cannot be prevented. However, “obesity may be the only risk factor for childhood asthma that could be preventable,” said Jason Lang, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Duke University and the study’s lead author.

For their retrospective study, Land and colleagues analyzed data for 507,496 children aged 2 to 17 gathered from more than 19 million doctor’s visits at six major children’s health centers. Those that were classified as having asthma had been diagnosed at two or more doctor’s appointments and had also received a prescription, such as an inhaler.

According to the findings, obese children had a 30% higher risk of developing asthma than their peers of a healthy weight. Meanwhile, children who were overweight but not obese also had a 17% increased asthma risk. The researchers calculated that 23% to 27% of new asthma cases in children with obesity are directly attributable to obesity. Researchers calculated the risk of asthma in children using several models and adjusted for factors such as sex, age, socioeconomic status, and allergies.

“Pediatric asthma is among the most prevalent childhood conditions and comes at a high cost to patients, families and the greater health system. There are few preventable risk factors to reduce the incidence of asthma, but our data show that reducing the onset of childhood obesity could significantly lower the public health burden of asthma,” said Terri Finkel, Chief Scientific Officer at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando and co-author of the new study. “Addressing childhood obesity should be a priority to help improve the quality of life of children and help reduce pediatric asthma.”

Credit: Samiha Khanna/ Duke Health.

Credit: Samiha Khanna/ Duke Health.

The study suggests that 1 million cases of pediatric asthma, out of 6 to 8 million cases reported in the United States, can be attributed to being overweight and obesity. The researchers write that at least 10% of all US cases of asthma in children might be avoided in the absence of childhood overweight and obesity.

It’s not clear how obesity adds to the risk of developing asthma. Some hypotheses include potential differences in how children’s lungs and airways develop when they are overweight and inflammatory effects in the body due to obesity.

“I think it’s reasonable to be concerned that it’s a causal relationship,” Lang said. “It appears becoming overweight or obese as a child significantly increases your risk of developing asthma, and it’s a significant increase, directing attention again to the importance of preventing obesity at an early age.”

The findings appeared in the journal Pediatrics. 

Women who regularly use cleaning supplies risk lung damage, study shows

Researchers discovered that women who cleaned on a regular basis using cleaning supplies are more likely to experience a greater decline in lung function than the ones who didn’t clean.

Via Pixabay/klimkin

According to the study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, the participants enrolled at the average age of 34 and were followed for more than 20 years.The lung damage recorded by the scientists is compared to smoking 20 cigarettes a day over the same period. Researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway analyzed data from 6,235 participants in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey and discovered the that the women who cleaned had the following results, as compared to women who did not clean:

  • Forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1), or the amount of air a person can forcibly exhale in one second, declined 3.6 millilitres (ml)/year faster in women who cleaned at home and 3.9 ml/year faster in women who worked as cleaners.
  • Forced vital capacity (FVC), or the total amount of air a person can forcibly exhale, declined 4.3 ml/year faster in women who cleaned at home and 7.1 ml/year faster in women who worked as cleaners.

When asked about the reason for the research, senior study author Cecile Svanes, MD, PhD, a professor at the university’s Centre for International Health answered:

“While the short-term effects of cleaning chemicals on asthma are becoming increasingly well documented, we lack knowledge of the long-term impact,” she said.

“We feared that such chemicals, by steadily causing a little damage to the airways day after day, year after year, might accelerate the rate of lung function decline that occurs with age.”

The results, even if surprising at first because of the high lung impairment, are justified, believes Svanes — for example, inhaling particles of cleaning agents meant for the household, and not for the lungs is, basically, bad for one’s health. No surprise in that.

Doctors suggest that repeatedly inhaling particles of cleaning products affects the airways by causing the mucous membranes lining the airways to become irritated, which over time results in persistent changes in the airways and airway remodelling.

Additionally, the researchers did find that asthma was more prevalent in women who cleaned at home (12.3 percent) or at work (13.7 percent) compared to those who did not clean (9.6 percent).

I know, I know, until now, the study seems pretty sexist.

The researchers did study a group of men who worked in the cleaning business and compared their results to non-cleaning men and found out that there are no significant differences in the decline of FEV1 or FVC between the two groups.

The study has some limitations: the study population included very few women who did not clean at home or work. The authors believe this group of women “constitute a selected socioeconomic group”. Also, the number of participating men working in the cleaning business was small, and doctors think that their exposure to cleaning agents was likely different from that of women who worked as cleaning professionals.

“The take home message of this study is that in the long run cleaning chemicals very likely cause rather substantial damage to your lungs,” Øistein Svanes, a co-author of the study, said. “These chemicals are usually unnecessary; microfiber cloths and water are more than enough for most purposes.”

So, girls, if you are tired of cleaning all the time, showing this study to your masculine other halves might get you out of a bunch of chores. Just sit back, relax, and let science work in your favour!



Having a cat around the house keeps asthma away in newborns

Danish researchers have found evidence that having cats around newborns significantly reduces the risk of developing asthma. Delving deeper, the team at the Copenhagen Studies on Asthma in Childhood Research Center (COPSAC) found that the presence of cats keeps deactivated a gene that doubles the risk of a child developing asthma.


Credit: Pixabay.

For the new study, the group of researchers studied data on 377 Danish children whose mothers have asthma. The team led by Hans Bisgaard, professor of pediatrics and the head of COPSAC, sequenced the genomes for each child and collected information about their upbringing and environment. With this in mind, not only were the parents surveyed, samples from their homes were also taken.

A variation in the 17q21 gene, called TT, is known to be heavily involved in whether or not a person develops asthma in early childhood. About one in three children carried the TT gene variant.

Surprisingly, cats removed the risks associated with the TT gene variant by keeping it shut down. To make things more interesting, dogs did not offer any kind of protection signaling there’s an environmental factor strictly associated with felines.

What’s more, the analysis found evidence indicating cats not only offer protection against asthma but also against pneumonia and inflammation, the authors reported in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Previously, in 2013, American researchers also found a positive association between cat ownership and reduced asthma incidence in young children up to 5 years of age. 

Left-hand side image shows asthma development in children carrying the TT gene variant, as compared to other children who lack the variant. Solid line indicates levels of cat allergens in the house, which are associated with a lower risk of developing asthma. Credit: Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Left-hand side image shows asthma development in children carrying the TT gene variant, as compared to other children who lack the variant. Solid line indicates levels of cat allergens in the house, which are associated with a lower risk of developing asthma. Credit: Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Scientists don’t know what is it about cats that deactivates the TT gene variant but previous research carried out by the same COPSAC found cats can also activate the eczema gene. Win some, lose some.

Such findings go to show just how complex the development of allergies and asthma can be, featuring a tangled interplay between genes and the environment. It’s not clear at the moment how much exposure to cats children need for the asthma protection to kick in. This is something other studies meant to replicate the findings might answer.

Lead-author Jakob Stokholm says that bacteria that cats carry and perhaps fungi or viruses could be involved in the asthma protection effect. This may be important to investigate since once they can isolate the TT gene deactivating driver, scientists may then be able to develop treatments which don’t necessarily involve physically having a cat in the house. But, let’s face it, why wouldn’t you?

“This [research] is of course interesting to develop, because if we can explain these mechanisms, it opens up opportunities to isolate them and to protect against the disease,” Stokholm told The Local. 


Prenatal exposure to paracetamol (acetaminophen) linked to asthma

Researchers have made a stronger case for the negative effects of paracetamol on pregnant women. It was already documented that prenatal paracetamol consumption is associated with asthma; now, a team has shown that this is not because the underlying condition for which the drug was taken.

Paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen and often sold under the name Tylenol, is one of the most commonly consumed drugs in the world. A mild analgesic, does not have significant anti-inflammatory activity and in fact, we don’t really know exactly why it works. Recently though, more and more studies have begun to show that it can have some very nasty effects – including liver failure, if taken in too large quantities.

Now, a team of Norwegian researchers confirmed what many physicians already suspected – pregnant mothers should avoid taking paracetamol, if possible. Co-author of the study, Maria Magnus, commented:

“Uncovering potential adverse effects is of public health importance, as paracetamol is the most commonly used painkiller among pregnant women and infants.”

Using data from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study, researchers in Norway and England compared this association over 114,500 children. They examined the asthma outcomes, as well as the three most common triggers for paracetamol use in pregnancy: pain, fever, and influenza.

They found that if mothers consumed paracetamol during their pregnancy, the likelihood of asthma was much higher – especially if they took it more than once. Furthermore, asthma rates weren’t correlated with either one of the three affections.

This seems to cement what previous studies found, that asthma is indeed caused by the drug and not by the underlying conditions.


Odor receptors discovered in lungs

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Iowa have found out that we don’t just smell with our noses, we also smell with our lungs… sort of. But while your nose might tell you that something is or isn’t good for you, your lungs might make you cough it out.

Smelling with your lungs

“They’re beautiful cells,” said Ben-Shahar, of the pulmonary neuroendocrine cells he has been studying in lung tissues. The flask-like cells that are full of serotonin (stained green here) and other chemicals extend processes up through the epithelial cells (purple) lining the airways to monitor the chemical makeup of each breath. The top part of the image is a plan view of the airway lining and the bottom part is a section through the lining.

“They’re beautiful cells,” said Ben-Shahar, of the pulmonary neuroendocrine cells he has been studying in lung tissues. The flask-like cells that are full of serotonin (stained green here) and other chemicals extend processes up through the epithelial cells (purple) lining the airways to monitor the chemical makeup of each breath.

The odor receptors in your lungs are very different from those in your nose. Instead of being located in the membranes of nerve cells, they are located in neuroendocrine cells – cells that receive neuronal input and send out hormones to the blood. So basically, instead of sending out a nerve signal that allows your brain to ‘read’ the smell, they dump hormones that make your airways constrict.

It comes as quite a surprise that an entire class of odor receptors went undetected for so long.

“We forget,” said Yehuda Ben-Shahar, PhD, assistant professor of biology, in Arts & Sciences, and of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, “that our body plan is a tube within a tube, so our lungs and our gut are open to the external environment. Although they’re inside us, they’re actually part of our external layer. So they constantly suffer environmental insults,” he said, “and it makes sense that we evolved mechanisms to protect ourselves.”

To put it simply, pulmonary neuroendocrine cells, or PNECs are guards, whose job is to make sure nothing harmful enters your lungs. If for any reason, they defect, this could lead to a broad range of afflictions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. Patients with these diseases are told to avoid traffic fumes, pungent odors, perfumes and similar irritants, which can trigger airway constriction and breathing difficulties.

Every breath you take

A diagram of the airway lining suggests how the pulmonary neuroendocrine cells (red) trigger a response to inhaled chemicals. When a chemical (orange triangle) docks on a receptor (black) they dump secretory chemicals (thin orange arrows), which have an immediate but localized effect on muscles (blue) and nerves (pink), possibly triggering responses such as a cough. Copyright: Ben Sahar.

A diagram of the airway lining suggests how the pulmonary neuroendocrine cells (red) trigger a response to inhaled chemicals. When a chemical (orange triangle) docks on a receptor (black) they dump secretory chemicals (thin orange arrows), which have an immediate but localized effect on muscles (blue) and nerves (pink), possibly triggering responses such as a cough. Copyright: Ben Sahar.

Earlier, a team at the University of Iowa, where Ben-Shahar was a postdoctoral research associate, studied genes expressed by patches of tissue from lung transplant donors. They found a ciliated group of cells that could perceive bitter smells and kick it out, if found dangerous. But people are vulnerable to more than just bitter smells, so Ben-Shahar decided to look again. This time he found that these tissues also express odor receptors, not on ciliated cells but instead on neuroendocrine cells – and this made a lot of sense.

“When people with airway disease have pathological responses to odors, they’re usually pretty fast and violent,” said Ben-Shahar. “Patients suddenly shut down and can’t breathe, and these cells may explain why.”

Sharing bacteria with your kids using their pacifier may reduce the children’s risk of allergies, asthma and eczema

Researchers in Sweden have shown that children whose moms and dads placed their childrens pacifiers in their own mouths, thus sharing some of their own bacteria with them, had a lower risk of allergies, asthma and eczema.


Arguably, the sample size of the study is too small, and more research is needed in order to confirm these original findings, but the trend which they suggest is pretty clear.

“Western culture is becoming an increasingly sterile environment, but that might not be ideal for young children as their immune systems develop,” says John Lee, MD, director of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Food Allergy Clinic. “Their bodies need to learn what to attack and what to ignore. But if they’re exposed to too few, or the wrong kinds of germs, it can hinder development, sometimes confusing the immune system into attacking nonthreatening entities like pollen or food, which is what causes allergies.”

Newsflash, ladies and gentlemen (but especially ladies) – keeping your babies in a bubble, isolated from the real world as much as possible is not a good thing. The odds are that in the long run, you will do more harm than good.

For the study, researchers followed 180 babies and their parents. They interviewed parents about their pacifier-cleaning practices (whether they used spit, tap or boiling water), and then they checked the childrens allergies at 18 and 36 months. Nearly half of all parents involved in the study admitted they used the occasional spit and clean of the pacifier, and kids whose parents did this were found to have a significantly lower chance of the above mentioned conditions. Blood tests also showed that children whose parents cleaned their pacifiers with spit had lower levels of a specific type of a particular immune cell that is usually linked to allergies.

While the community’s response to this study was generally positive, it was generally argued that the sample size is too small to draw any definite conclusions.

“This study was too small to draw any conclusive facts about allergy and the sharing of microbes,” says Lee. “But I joke with families that a little dirt may be good for their kids, and this study certainly wouldn’t contradict that.”

Among the critics, some have claimed that sharing this kind of oral bacteria with infants can lead to cavities, but Man Wai Ng, DDS, MPH, dentist in chief at Boston Children’s says it’s extremely doubtful:

“The reality is that saliva transfer is almost completely unavoidable, especially when babies get hugged and kissed a lot,” she says. “Since oral bacteria is just a part of life, parents should focus on what they can do: good brushing with a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste, limiting exposures to sugary foods and drinks and visiting a dentist by age 1.”

Via Children’s Hospital Boston

Asthmapping: Smart GPS Inhalers Save Lives

Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory disease that causes the airways of the lungs to swell and narrow, leading to wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing. It affects millions of people worldwide, and despite the fact that treatment exists for it, getting the right dosage and regime requires extremely detailed information about the disease and its symptoms – and this is something people are not very good at.

What is Asthmapolis? from Asthmapolis on Vimeo.

David Van Sickle, founder and CEO of Asthmapolis believes he’s found the solution to this problem; he designed a set of tools which help patients and monitor the disease’s behaviour. Basically, you attach a Bluetooth sensor to your inhaler which tracks the time and location of each inhale; using nothing more than your average smartphone, the information can then be passed to Asthmapolis’ servers to track the response to treatment and patterns in disease evolution and outbreaks. The solution is as simple as it is elegant and effective.

“Historically in asthma we haven’t done much except provide patients with a rationale for keeping pen and paper and encouraging them to bring them to their next visit,” says Van Sickle. The problem is that no one likes doing this; it’s just one more burden that comes with the disease. So people forget, or procrastinate, or try to guess. “We know those diaries are often inaccurate,” he says, “They’re generally fabricated.”


Regarding public health, the same problem is posed; there is little to no information regarding where people are during an outbreak.

“The assumption is that all that happened at their house which is a bad assumption to make.”

Asthmapolis attacks this problem by understanding that modern medicine is a lot about data collection; when you press the inhaler the sensor detects that you’ve used the medicine, and the GPS and clock record where and when. The device went through several development phases, because not is as simple as it seems, but the final one really seems flawless. Now, we await the results.

“Asthma patients are a tough demographic,” says Van Sickle, “We’ve got kids, older folks, people where it’s work related, people who need it when they exercise, and people who don’t use it often.”

Source (both article and pictures): Asthmapolis

Cats to prevent allergies and asthma development




A study conducted by researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health showed that cat ownership probably has a very good effect on young children of ages up to 5 years. The study was published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Basically, what is showed was that children which live in the same home as cats have smaller chances of getting allergies and asthma, due to the fact that they create antibodies for allergies related to cats. At three years of age, children who had made antibodies to cats early in life were more likely to have wheeze; wheeze is a respiratory symptom which is connected to asthma.

So especially prolonged cat ownership and early life exposure to cats may have a really protective effect. This doesn’t mean that if a child has asthma cats could help him. Study leader speaks his mind:

“While the study design does not allow us to recommend early cat ownership to prevent asthma, it does seem to indicate that avoidance of cats to prevent the development of asthma is not advised. However, once a child has asthma and is allergic to cats, the recommendation would still be to find a new home for the cat,” said Matthew Perzanowski, PhD, assistant professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health and lead author and investigator on the research.