Customizing treatment for a particular patient based on genetic or other molecular biology-based diagnostic tests has gained ground in the last few years. Now, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) researchers and their colleagues are bringing that “personalized medicine” to asthma.

Researchers have made the first identification of different asthma subtypes based on distinct “protein profiles,” unique combinations of 10 or more proteins with which they are associated. One of those profiles corresponds to a rare variety of severe, treatment-resistant asthma that is responsible for 40% to 50% of the total health care costs associated with the disease.

Researchers squirted saline solution through tiny tubes into the anesthesized volunteers’ lungs to obtain samples. Then they sucked the saline back out, bringing with it proteins washed free from walls of the network of air passages and sacs in the lungs. The samples fell into different groups: one associated with severe asthma, another that represents less severe disease, and two additional groups that are not yet understood. The findings appear in the January issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.