An international team of scientists say they have identified a novel molecule that prevents T cells from initiating an asthma attack in response to allergens. The researchers, who published their study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, say their therapeutic agent might eventually be used to treat asthma, a chronic disease affecting more than 25 million Americans.

“We have identified a synthetic molecule, a sulfate monosaccharide, that inhibits the signal that recruits T cells to the lungs to start an asthma attack,” said Minoru Fukuda, Ph.D., adjunct professor in the tumor microenvironment and metastasis program at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute. “The molecule substantially lessened asthma symptoms such as inflammation, mucus production, and airway constriction.”

The study, which also involved scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Colloids and Interfaces, the Free University of Berlin, UC San Diego, and Shinshu University, was carried out in mouse models for asthma research. It showed that the synthetic sulfate monosaccharide blocks the interaction between chemokine CCL20, a T-cell signaling protein, and heparin sulfate, a molecule that protects and immobilizes CCL20 on epithelial cells in the lung. Blocking this interaction stalled the recruitment of the T cells that trigger inflammation. The favorable results were achieved when the novel molecule was administered intravenously as well as by inhalation.

“There is currently no cure for asthma, and asthma control remains elusive for many patients, so there is still a need for research to find new therapies,” says Mike Tringale, senior vice president at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), a national asthma patient organization that has declared May National Asthma Awareness Month.

“Pulmonary inhalation of this new molecule may help reduce asthma symptoms by suppressing chemokine-mediated inflammatory responses,” added Dr. Fukuda. We look forward to the further development of the molecule to treat the millions of people who suffer from this chronic disease.”

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