For the first time, a group of European researchers has succeeded in defining three distinct types of severe asthma by analyzing sputum samples from a group of patients, according to research presented at ERS 2015.
Researchers have taken the first step towards understanding how the different categories of patients vary in terms of what is causing their severe asthma, and that in the long term this would enable the development of drugs tailored to each category, as well as help identify existing drugs that could be used to help a particular group of patients.
“We knew that each new treatment does not work in all people with the disease, which is why we decided to undertake sputum ‘handprinting’ in 72 people across the severity of asthma, including smokers,” said Diane Lefaudeux, a research engineer at the European Institute of Systems Biology and Medicine, Lyon, France.
The research was carried out by U-BIOPRED (Unbiased BIOmarkers in PREDiction of respiratory disease outcomes), a public/private partnership, using information and samples from European adults and children in order to learn more about the different types of asthma.
For their research on severe asthma, the scientists analyzed patient sputum samples using gene expression measurements (transcriptomics), abundance of proteins (focused and non-focused proteomics), and measurements of abundance of certain lipids (focused lipidomics).
“Each ‘omic’ type brings a different and complementary piece of information concerning the biology of asthma and severe asthma, leading to the combination of fingerprints which make up the handprint of disease,” said Lefaudeux.
Difficult-to-treat asthma affects about 5% of the 30 million European asthma sufferers, and of those probably about half a million suffer from severe asthma, said the researchers. “We presume that severe asthma develops in patients who already have asthma and therefore the question is: what drives the evolution? We now believe that there may be a number of causes, since we have found that severe asthma consists of a number of different phenotypes,” said Lefaudeux.
The researchers intend to follow up their work by linking their findings to the large amount of clinical data and additional ‘omics’ data types that has been collected by the clinical centres of U-BIOPRED. Further and deeper analyses and interpretation of these data will help to understand the underlying biology of the newly identified groups of severe asthma patients.