Scientists at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center have found a gene that could help identify children with difficult-to-treat asthma. The gene is known as Vascular Non-Inflammatory Molecule, or VNN1 for short. The research report, titled “Vanin-1 expression and methylation discriminate pediatric asthma corticosteroid treatment response,” appeared in the July 7th issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
According to study investigator Gurjit Khurana Hershey, MD, PhD, director of Asthma Research at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, “Genome-wide analysis allowed us to identify a gene, whose expression discriminated between good and poor responders to systemic corticosteroid treatment. This may serve as clinically useful biomarker to identify a subset of difficult-to-treat asthmatic children, and targeting the VNN1 pathway may be useful as a therapeutic strategy.”
Asthma is currently on the rise with one in 12 people being diagnosed with the condition in 2009, up from 1 in 14 in 2001. Asthma attacks occur yearly in about half of those people who have asthma, and are more common in children than in adults. About 40% to 70% of asthmatic children fall into a difficult-to-treat category, with current medications often failing to help. New treatments for these children in particular are greatly needed.
Hershey and her co-workers genetically analyzed nasal epithelial cells, a type of cell lining the inside of the nasal passages, from 57 children age 5 to 18 who were admitted to the hospital with a severe asthma attack. The researchers tried to identify those genes that could predict which children responded well to corticosteroid treatments.
Children with specific types of the VNN1 gene were more likely to benefit from corticosteroid treatment response when they had an acute asthma attack.
“Difficult-to-treat patients account for over 50% of health care costs associated with asthma,” Noted Hershey. “There are new drugs that may be helpful, as well as those that affect the VNN1 pathway, but they have not been tested in asthma. This study provides the basis for a biomarker to determine which patients might be best to target with new treatments.”
Scientists are conducting more research to better understand the function of the VNN1 gene, as well as other molecules that it affects. They are particularly interested in understanding how VNN1 influences the swelling of airways during asthma attacks. They also want to explore whether medications that act on VNN1 and associated molecules could be good for treating children with specific types of asthma.
Overall, this research may ultimately help kids with asthma who have been up to now, difficult for physicians to help and to treat.