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Dr Hugo Farne

Institute: Imperial College London

Susceptibility to rhinovirus infection in asthma

Asthma attacks, or ‘exacerbations’, continue to be a significant cause of hospitalisation causing over 1,000 deaths annually in the UK. Most exacerbations are caused by respiratory viruses, usually rhinovirus (the common cold).

We and others have previously deliberately exposed people with asthma to rhinovirus in a carefully monitored setting to study the effects of infection. Interestingly, ~10-20% of these subjects do not get infected for reasons which are unknown. Identifying any factors that increase susceptibility or resistance to rhinovirus, and potentially other viral, infections in asthma could lead to novel therapeutic targets.

Studies in which people with asthma are infected with rhinovirus are difficult to set up and complete. They are therefore usually carried out in relatively small numbers of subjects – most likely too few to compare the 10-20% who aren’t infected with the remainder. Combining samples from three previous studies in our group, one of a handful worldwide who conduct these trials, gives us a unique opportunity to undertake this important work. We will look at both specific factors that have been found to affect susceptibility to infection in other respiratory viruses and/or healthy individuals, and a broad-based approach looking at a large volume of data (the composition of the bacteria colonising the airways, the biochemicals and protein immune mediators in the airways, and the genetic profile of the cells lining the airway that are the target for viral infection) to enable the discovery of previously unanticipated factors.

The findings from this will lead to a programme of work to validate any findings in animal models and naturally occurring asthma exacerbations and, in future, development of novel treatments targeting these pathways.

Read more about Dr Farne here.

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