Scientists find new way to combat asthma and COVID-related lung diseases

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In a new study, researchers examined how the immune system impacts gut bacteria.

They found two molecules that can not only provide profound protection in asthma but can also reduce the severity of an attack.

Neither of these molecules were previously known to have an effect on asthma, and they also appear to have a role in treating the respiratory illness in people with serious COVID-19.

One of the molecules is already commercially available as a dietary supplement.

The research was conducted by a team at Monash University.

Asthma is one of the most common major non-communicable diseases and it impacts 300 million people globally. The global asthma treatment market size stood at over $18 billion US in 2019.

In the study, the team wanted to understand how the immune system impacts the gut microbiome.

Studying a mouse that had a limited immune system, consisting of a single type of antibody, the researchers found the gut microbiome was changed.

By transferring these gut bacteria into ‘normal’ mice they could identify which bacteria had an impact on the mouse immune system.

In what was an enormous surprise, the researchers found that the production of a particular gut bacteria by-product, called p-cresol sulfate (PCS), led to profound and striking protection against asthma.

They found that the PCS was produced by enhanced bacterial metabolism of L-tyrosine; a well-known amino acid found in dietary supplements aimed at improving attention and alertness.

The researchers also tested the metabolites in animal models of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and found it to be protective.

ARDS is a common killer of people with serious COVID-19.

While L-tyrosine has a long history of use in the clinic, as mentioned in dietary supplements, its potential use as a therapy could be fast-tracked into clinical trials because it is known to be safe.

PCS however is known to be in high levels in people with chronic kidney disease and it’s suspected to be toxic because of these patient’s inability to clear it.

The research group has started developing a form of PCS that is a potent protector against asthma without the potentially toxic side effects.

More importantly, scientists have found that inhaling PCS provides a direct protective effect against lung inflammation, opening the way for a novel inhaled preventive therapy.

One author of the study is Professor Benjamin Marsland.

The study is published in Nature Immunology.

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