That inhaler may look cool, but what’s inside may change in the coming years, and that, too me, is what’s really cool.
Currently, asthma is primarily treated with two types of medicine; corticosteroids (long acting, anti-inflammatory) and bronchodilators (fast-acting, airway opening). There are others (i.e. antihistamines, decongestants, immunotherapy injections) but the two previously mention types of meds are far and away the most commonly prescribed. Even though these drugs are effective, there are side effects/drawbacks. Some are less serious, such as tremors, or mild agitation, but other reports, even if rare, are pretty scary. For example, some research has indicated that if a patient over-relies on bronchodilators, as opposed to taking their daily maintenance anti-inflammatory medication, they may end up worsening their condition (Salpeter et al. 2004). Even scarier, is the FDA’s investigation into Singulair’s effect on mood and suicidality.
Both of these a fore mentioned medications work at a relatively superficial level. And, as just mentioned, the existing medications have physiological side effects but can also effect the mind, mood and behavior. Fortunately, two new possibly superior treatment avenues have recently emerged. Actually, the stories hit press over the course of two days! (It is a very exciting time for asthma research!)
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, right here in Philadelphia, have discovered that a form of communication between cells, known as “cellular crosstalk” is responsible for the creation of smooth muscle matter in the lungs (and cardiovascular system).
One aspect of asthma, especially severe and chronic asthma, is that repeated irritation and inflammation causes airway walls to become thickened. These researchers are suggesting that new treatments may interject on this specific type of cellular communication, thereby disrupting the creation of unnecessary airway muscle. While it is great that we are beginning to understand some of the underlying etiology of asthma to this degree, this avenue for treatment will not likely be applicable to the majority of asthma sufferers who have a mild or moderate severity.
The second recent advancement in the asthma treatment research field was the discovery of an enzyme linked to initiation of inflammation (aldose reductase). The researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that aldose reductase is the enzyme primarily responsible for the initiation of allergic inflammation in the lungs (one of the primary characteristics of asthma). The great new is that aldose reductase inhibitors have already been proven effective in animal models for other disorders such as atherosclerosis, and colon cancer. The researchers claim that this form of treatment may also be able to be inhaled, and have a much longer lasting effect.
Only time, research and clinical trials will tell, but it’s great to see that we are closing in on treatments that could be more effective, work on a deeper level, and have less side effects than the current medications.