Dr. Scott Tebbutt and his team are working to develop a simple blood test that can better identify people likely to develop more chronic, inflammatory forms of asthma.
Why is your team interested in late phase asthma?
We’re working with a group of clinician-scientists who administer allergen inhalation challenges to research participants who have mild allergic asthma. In controlled conditions, they inhale the allergen they are most sensitive to. In early phase responders, any reaction will subside after about an hour. A few hours later, however, 50 to 60 percent of the subjects will have an additional late phase response. Drug companies are trying to address this late phase response because it shares characteristics with chronic inflammatory asthma and lung damage. So far, however, identifying which participants will develop late phase asthmatic responses is a very time consuming and expensive process. We’d like to streamline that process by developing a simple blood test.
What is a blood biomarker?
Blood biomarkers are molecules in the body that are often products of genes. You can measure different molecules in a blood sample. If there is more of a certain molecule in one person who has a specific health condition than in another person who doesn’t have that condition, that makes it a potential biomarker. Such molecules can be developed into valuable diagnostic tools to predict outcomes like late phase asthma.
How will your research help asthma sufferers?
The allergen inhalation challenge is a long, involved, 2-day process that requires a lot of staff and equipment and time off work for the research participant. With our blood test, we can quickly and more accurately narrow down which asthma subjects will develop a late response, and for a much lower cost. Those testing positive will be recruited for clinical trials for the development of new drugs, or testing of existing drugs, for asthma sufferers.
What else have you discovered through this research?
Some of the biomarkers we found are quite interesting molecules. We are looking to determine how best to follow up with these novel genes as we don’t know what they do. It opens up a whole new area of investigation.
The BC Lung Association grants a million dollars annually to physicians and scientists doing research in British Columbia and has been a funder of Dr. Trebutt's research