An immune system protein that has been used to treat several diseases could also help asthma sufferers, claim researchers.
They found that the protein interferon blocks the development of a population of immune cells known to cause asthma.
"This finding is incredibly important, because humans are being treated with interferon for a variety of diseases, yet no one has tried treating asthma patients with interferon," said Dr. J. David Farrar UT Southwestern Medical Centre.
"The current therapies for asthma are inhalers and steroids, both of which offer only temporary relief," he added.
The researchers showed in isolated human cells that interferon blocks the development of nascent Th2 cells and inhibits cells that already have become Th2 cells by interfering with a regulatory protein called GATA3, a transcription factor Th2 cells express to regulate their function.
"Interferon is blocking the development of these cells and their stability, and it's doing this by targeting the very transcription factor that regulates their development and stability in the first place," said Farrar.
"By targeting this transcription factor, we've turned off the key component that regulates the entire process."
The findings provide proof-of-principle that targeting this particular group of cells with interferon might be an effective therapy for those with asthma, he said.
"The study has confirmed that it's the Th2 cells that you really want to target," he said.
"If you can stop a Th2 cell from ever developing, and if you can take a Th2 cell that has already become one and stop it from secreting these asthma-causing chemicals, then that's really the 'Holy Grail' of treating asthma."
The findings were published in the Journal of Immunology.