People without health concerns don’t think much about breathing, especially given that it is an involuntary action. However, a recent study out of Australia reveals that 1 in 10 people suffer from asthma or other respiratory diseases to the extent that it makes breathing laborious, underscoring the need for a new generation of effective inhalable medications to assist asthmatics and other lung disease patients to help them breathe more effortlessly.
Mehra Haghi, pharmaceutical scientist, hopes to further a platform through which a wide range of drugs can be delivered by inhalation; this would include antibiotics utilized to treat tuberculosis and anti-inflammatory drugs to address asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Several currently used respiratory treatments have to be injected or swallowed as pills since researchers have not yet been able to fabricate them into suitable inhalable products, explained study author Haghi, who is a lecturer in the Graduate School of Health at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS).
“Formulating treatment for inhalation is more challenging because the formulated micro-particles need to be the right size to travel all the way down to the lung without causing sensitivity,” she explained. The researcher recently joined a prestigious Humboldt Research Fellowship in Germany and will dedicate four months exploring a unique, new testing model.
“It’s unique because we can test on cells that have the pathological characteristics of the patient. No research has been done previously that studies at cellular level what happens to respiratory formulations after inhalation by the patient,” Haghi noted.
Her role in the project will involve isolating different types of lung cells from patients to grow them in cultures, combining them later in the same ratio and order they grow in the lung to replicate in the lab what is actually happening in the lungs. This study method might lead to new and more effective approaches to address asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Asthma has been treated for the last 50 years mainly with inhaled steroids.
Furthermore, in collaboration with the Woolcock Institute, Haghi advanced an inhalable type of theophylline, an asthma drug, which is now taken orally. However, the novel therapy might still have negative side effects and will require further testing.
Estimates say that 15 to 20 percent of asthma patients have steroid insensitivity, which is an obstacle to treatment effectiveness. “In respiratory disease treatment, the preference is always to give an inhaler because that bypasses all the systemic side effects. But there are a lot of challenges to get a preparation you can successfully put it into a puffer. You have to be able to prove it’s safe to inhale, as concentrating a formula straight onto lung tissue could irritate or damage the tissue,” explained Greg King from the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research.
On a different but related project, Haghi has also advanced a stable and high-performance tranexamic acid aerosol. This drug has been used to decrease bleeding in surgery, after birth and heavy menstrual bleeding.
“Coughing blood is a significant symptom that needs to be investigated but once you find a cause, the management is relatively limited. An inhalable form of tranexamic acid to stop bleeding in the lung would make a real difference to patients,” concluded King.