Hunter researchers have discovered a new protein which plays a crucial role in the development of one of Australia's biggest health problems - asthma.
Dr Joerg Mattes and colleagues from the University of Newcastle, the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI), and the University of Freiburg in Germany, discovered high concentrations of a protein called TRAIL in the airways of asthmatics.
The research, which appears in the prestigious journal Nature Medicine, shows the inhibition of TRAIL provides protection from the development of airway inflammation and airflow obstruction, which are the hallmark features of asthma.
Dr Mattes said the team would now conduct further research to investigate new therapies for asthma, which involve inhibiting the protein.
The research is one of many projects being undertaken by researchers in the University of Newcastle's Priority Research Centre (PRC) for Asthma and Respiratory Diseases.
A recognised leader in the field of asthma research, the University of Newcastle recently secured almost $3.5m in National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding for research into understanding and developing new ways to treat the chronic condition.
Centre Director Professor Paul Foster received more than $1.7m for three projects exploring new therapies in the treatment of asthma, advanced ways to inhibit the development of the disease, and preclinical testing of new asthma treatments.
"Asthma is one of the most significant health and economic burdens on society, and its prevalence has steadily increased over the last 25 years," Professor Foster said. "One in five Australian children suffer from asthma, making it the most common chronic disease in childhood."
Professor Foster said new ways of treating asthma were urgently required as current therapies treated the symptoms and not the causes of the disease.
A further $1.7 million was awarded to four other researchers in the PRC investigating asthma and other respiratory diseases.
Established in 2006, the PRC works in collaboration with HMRI's Vaccines, Immunity, Viruses and Asthma program. The University of Newcastle is also part of a Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Asthma and Airways, a collaborative team that brings together many of the best asthma researchers in Australia.
TRAIL research: Dr Joerg Mattes via Katie Porritt.