Looking At The Changes In The Lung In Asthma And COPD
First Published: Investigator - August 2009
Researchers at Flinders Medical Centre are exploring the enzymes that lead to the constriction of the airways in asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) with the hope of creating better outcomes for sufferers.
Both asthma and COPD are characterised by inflammation in the lungs that is often a reaction to environmental factors or an infection which triggers ‘attacks’.
These conditions can cause breathing difficulties with symptoms like coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath as the airways constrict and limit airflow.
Unlike asthma, the damage caused by the inflammation in the lungs in COPD is irreversible and can get progressively worse over time.
“Asthma and COPD are also characterised by changes in the function and structure of the lungs,” said Associate Professor Rainer Haberberger from Anatomy and Histology at Flinders University.
Changes within the lungs’ blood vessels in these disorders can result in pulmonary hypertension - a reduction of blood flow in the lungs.
“There is some evidence that suggest these changes play an important role in the development of inflammatory airway disease, but we do not know exactly what role they take as this has not been extensively explored,” he said.
This is because the signalling pathways within cells that initiate this constriction of the lungs’ blood vessels are not fully understood.
Our cells use signalling pathways to pass messages along that activate certain functions within cells.
Assoc Prof Haberberger’s research points to the involvement of the sphingosine kinase 1 (SK1) pathway which triggers the creation of a lipid called sphingosine 1-phosphate (S1P), which is involved in controlling lung function.
“We predict that this SK1 and S1P pathway is involved in the vascular changes that accompany pulmonary inflammation in asthma and COPD,” said Assoc Prof Haberberger.
“If we are correct, this pathway could play a crucial role in the inflammation that characterise these diseases and create a promising target for better treatments for patients.”