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Attacking asthma

Winnipeg scientist's breakthrough promises better treatment for patients

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Asthma by the numbers

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, Fall 2009

A Winnipeg Health Region scientist has solved one of the key mysteries surrounding allergy-related asthma, a development that could lead to new treatments for the condition.

It has long been understood that there is a connection between elevated levels of an antibody called Immunoglobulin E (IgE) and a child's risk of developing asthma later in life. Just how that connection works has been a mystery. Until now.

After two years of research, Dr. Abdelilah Soussi Gounni is now able to show how IgE affects the smooth muscle cells in a person's airway, thereby causing inflammation and bringing on an asthma attack.

Essentially, the process works like this: The body's immune system produces antibodies in response to substances it perceives as threats. In the case of asthma, the immune system produces the IgE antibody to combat allergens. When allergens are inhaled into the airways, they attach themselves to the mucus membranes that line the nose, throat, and lungs. The immune system then sees these allergens as invaders and starts a process to fight them off. However, an excess production of IgE can lead to swelling of the airways, which can result in severe asthma attacks.

"When you have an allergic type of asthma, your body is thought to produce too much of a natural substance known as Immunoglobulin in response to allergens such as pollen, dust mites and pet dander," says Soussi Gounni, a scientist at the Manitoba Institute of Child Health, the research division of The Children's Hospital Foundation, and Associate Professor in the Department of Immunology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Manitoba. "This extra IgE causes the airway to become inflamed, which can result in severe asthmatic attacks."

The research is to be published in the PLoS One Journal and highlighted as a breakthrough finding in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI).

Soussi Gounni is now studying the consequences of elevated levels of IgE in smooth muscle cells so that an actual treatment can be developed for asthmatics.

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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