Patients suffering from asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who are more susceptible to be infected with the rhinoviruses that cause colds or severe flare-ups due to colds may be now be able to reduce these health risks through a blood test that is able to predict attacks. Discovered by a group of researchers from the Institute of Pathophysiology and Allergy Research at the MedUni Vienna, the blood test may be able to filter the risk and reduce not only incidence but also severity.
The research team, which worked in collaboration with colleagues from the Imperial College in London, conducted its investigations in order to find a diagnostic marker able to identify the risk group for asthma attacks triggered by the rhinoviruses. Therefore, to determine the effectiveness of the blood test, researchers infected both asthma patients and healthy participants with the rhinovirus within a controlled environment.
“Many severe asthma attacks are triggered by rhinoviruses,” said the study author, Katarzyna Niespodziana from the Institute of Pathophysiology and Allergy Research, as he explained that patients who suffer from chronic pulmonary conditions can undergo severe and life-threatening exacerbations when infected with the virus. The risk is due to the fact that the rhinovirus triggers a cold, and an attack further worsens the underlying disease.
The recombinant virus antigen antibody tests conducted at MedUni Vienna revealed that patients suffering from asthma who had also experienced attacks had higher levels of antibodies to the structure protein VP1, which is found in all of the known 150 or so rhinovirus strains, compared to all of the other study participants. “We are therefore able to show that this protein is suitable as a diagnostic marker and also as a tool for categorizing disease-triggering strains,” Niespodziana added.
Even though the researchers asserted that the PCR test was able to detect the presence of the rhinovirus, they noted that it hasn’t yet been possible to determine if the virus will cause the development of a cold or trigger an attack. However, the raised antibody levels in response to VP1 allows patients and physicians to identify the need for protection against colds.
In addition, the findings of study may represent another step into the development of vaccines against colds, research that has been conducted for years and for which the European Union’s project “Predicta” is currently focused on. MedUni Vienna is participating in the project, represented by Rudolf Valenta, the head of the Department of Immunopathology from the Institute of Pathophysiology and Allergy Research. However, the researchers believe that before a vaccine is possible, further research to better understand the rhinovirus strain that triggers the colds attacks is needed.