Asthma Gene in Children Sparks Hope For Mother
It was a report I read with mixed feelings. The intellectual part of my brain cheered and said, "Now that's progress!" The lay-the-guilt-on-me part of every mother's brain dredged up feelings that were echoed by parent after parent in the educational support group I started 25 years ago. We all knew there was a genetic component of asthma, and each of us had hesitantly donned the cloak of responsibility. But the overriding feeling I have as I read new information about the "asthma gene" is one of joy and hope. Perhaps future generations will have treatment options that make asthma care easy and effective.
What's new? The study, released in the July 4 issue of the journal Nature, reports that scientists from the University of Michigan, London, France and Germany studied the DNA of more than 2,000 children, comparing the genetic makeup of 994 patients who had childhood asthma with 1,243 non-asthmatic children. The scientists discovered genetic markers that significantly increased a child's likelihood of having asthma.
The markers, located on chromosome 17, indicate a higher level of a new gene called ORMDL3 which, in turn, indicates a higher incidence of asthma. In fact, presence of the disease-associated version of ORMDL3 increases the risk of asthma by 60-70 percent.
"In terms of an asthma gene, there have been quite a few reports, but not one that can be clearly reproduced in samples," said Goncalo Abecasis, associate professor at the U-M School of Public Health. "I think eventually it will lead to new therapies because it points to a specific biological molecular pathway. Once we understand the biology and we know the players, it's possible to target with specific drugs."
Most children with asthma are currently receiving treatments based on the allergic response since the majority have allergies. The discovery of the so-called "asthma gene" would provide a new set of mechanisms to attempt to modify childhood asthma, Abecasis said.
Scientists do not have the entire picture of what causes asthma, but they believe it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors - the perfect storm. This study puts another valuable piece of the puzzle in place and it's cause for applause.
Now if all of us parents can just shrug off those cloaks of responsibility.