Asthma, which effects three million people in the United States each year, involves the swelling and narrowing of airways along with the production of additional mucus, which causes coughing and difficulty breathing. Symptom severity varies from person to person, and while asthma cannot be cured, symptoms can be managed through numerous different therapies .
Unfortunately, treatment of these symptoms can be more problematic for those with a body mass index (BMI) over 30kg/m2, otherwise known as obese asthmatics.
Recent studies conducted at the University of Arizona concluded that individuals struggling with obesity lack substantial amounts of surfactant protein A (SP-A), a “powerhouse protein that helps curb the lungs’ responses to environmental insults such as air pollution.” It also regulates the numbers and locations of disease-fighting white blood cells called eosinophils. And while SP-A is already made in our bodies, a lack of SP-A leads to the collection of eosinophils in the lungs, exacerbating the disease for obese asthmatics .
Treatment strategies that focus on reducing the quantity of eosinophils have been proven effective in reducing asthma related hospital admissions. However, the use of beta-2 agonists, the gold standard of today’s asthma treatments, actually increases eosinophils’ ability to survive.
As Department Chair and a professor in the Department of Medicine, Monica Kraft, MD has dedicated her research interests to adult asthma, the role of infection in asthma and the role of the distal lung in asthma and airway remodeling . Kraft, in collaboration with Julie Ledford, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine in the College of Medicine who trained in surfactant immunobiology, developed a series of peptides related to SP-A to treat asthma and other lung-related diseases. Their research has shown that the use of these peptides reduced both the recruitment and concentration of eosinophils as well as the production of mucin.
“This is a protein that you already have in your lung, that has so many wonderful applications. This is just a tiny piece of it that, potentially, people with asthma wouldn’t have in a functional state. So, we’re giving back something that you would normally have in your lungs anyway, we’re just giving you back a functional form that is highly active”, said Ledford.
Dr. Kraft is particularly interested in the possibility of ultimately administering this treatment deep into the lungs via inhaler, saying “There are inhalers now that can deliver more than one medication, so wouldn’t that be nice to have two medicines that help with airway inflammation and one that's more preventative against exacerbations and infections (SP-A) in the same inhaler?”
And as for applications, Kraft and Ledford see these peptides as a potential treatment of symptoms associated with diseases beyond asthma, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the common cold and potentially even cystic fibrosis. Dr. Ledford noted that what they see in the lab could be applicable to many lung diseases because of its ability to reduce mucin production and airway bronchoconstriction.
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 Mayo Clinic Staff. “Asthma.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 30 Aug. 2016, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/asthma/basics/definition/con-2002... (link is external). Accessed 13 July 2017.
 Litvack, Emily. “Study Finds Molecular Explanation for Struggles of Obese Asthmatics.” UANews, The University of Arizona Health Sciences, 14 July 2017, uanews.arizona.edu/story/study-finds-molecular-explanation-struggles-obese-asthmatics?utm_source=uanow&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=. Accessed 18 July 2017.
 “Monica Kraft, MD.” College of Medicine Tucson, The University of Arizona Health Sciences, medicine.arizona.edu/person/monica-kraft-md. Accessed 13 July 2017.