Asthma breakthrough for scientists

02 Mar 2009 14:24:00.000

PA 52/09

Scientists at The University of Nottingham have made a breakthrough in identifying gene variations that appear to increase a person's risk of asthma.

The findings of the research could lead to better diagnosis and treatment of asthma which affects more than five million people in the UK. The scientists, led by Professor Ian Hall at University Hospital Nottingham, have discovered three specific gene variations that are indicators for an increased susceptibility to asthma.

The risk of asthma is influenced by genes passed from parents to children. Over the past decade variations in many different genes have been linked to asthma but previous studies have often given conflicting results because they were not big enough to provide accurate information.

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Now though, the Nottingham-based research project has examined genetic material from a much bigger sample of more than 7,000 people, all of whom were born in the same week in 1958. The volunteers had been contacted many times over the years to gather medical information and blood samples for analysis. By the age of 42, nearly half of them had at some point in their lives suffered from wheezing or asthma.


The study set out to define precisely the contribution made to asthma risk by variations in five genes which were already linked to the condition. The researchers have discovered that three variations in two of those genes are strongly associated with an increased risk of asthma. In contrast, variations in the other three genes studied do not seem to increase asthma risk in the UK.


Additionally, despite extensive studies, Professor Hall and his colleagues could not find evidence that any of the five genes influence our risk of having allergies. He said: “We're delighted to have taken forward our research to pin down genes that influence a person's risk of asthma. Our research confirms that asthma risk is most likely influenced by many different common genetic variations, all of which have a small impact on our overall risk.


Dr Elaine Vickers, Research Relations Manager at Asthma UK, said: “Our risk of asthma is influenced by our genetic makeup, behaviour and exposure to many things in our environment. Studies such as this one are therefore incredibly complex. This research supplies robust, accurate information that might ultimately help to improve the diagnosis and treatment of asthma.”


The study was funded by the asthma charity, Asthma UK. The full research paper has just been published in the international journal of respiratory medicine, Thorax



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Notes to editors:

The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.


More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.


The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's "only truly global university", it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.

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  More information is available from Professor Ian Hall by e-mail at

Emma Rayner - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 74 84413  Location: University Park

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