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Research uncovers potential new approach for treating asthma

There may be fresh hope for asthma sufferers who experience an attack brought on by the common cold.

An antibody is being tested in mouse models by researchers from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and the University of Queensland, with early results revealing it may help the body to fight colds, while potentially reducing the risk of an asthma attack.

QIMR Berghofer Respiratory Immunology Laboratory head Associate Professor Simon Phipps said the anti-IL-33 antibody targets a protein called IL-33 that is increased in people with asthma.

The protein is released from cells in the body during an asthma attack and triggers an inflammatory response.

“A major trigger of asthma attacks is an infection with rhinovirus, or the common cold,” Associate Professor Phipps said.

“We discovered in our research that in addition to causing inflammation, IL-33 also weakens the ability of the immune response to clear the virus.

“Steroids, which are currently used to treat asthma, are broad-spectrum anti-inflammatories, so they reduce inflammation but also suppress the part of the immune system that is fighting the virus.

“In contrast, the anti-IL-33 antibody we’re testing in mouse models reduces inflammation and restores the arm of the immune response that defends against the virus.

“Importantly, our findings in pre-clinical tests were replicated when we used human airway epithelial cells – which line the airways of the lungs – and can be grown in the laboratory.”

Associate Professor Phipps said the antibody works by mopping up the IL-33 protein so that it can no longer act on cells in the airways.

“This removes its inhibitory impact on immune-boosting proteins, which prevent viral replication, and so potentially lessens the chance of a virus-triggered asthma attack,” he said.

“Ultimately, a treatment using this antibody could have the additional benefit of boosting the immunity of an asthma sufferer, potentially helping to curb an attack and strengthening the body so it can fight back against viral infection.”

Associate Professor Phipps said while the antibody tested wasn’t a candidate for clinical development; it provided the right approach for clinical trials overseas.

The study was published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Testing involved collaborators from the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre, the Diamantina Institute and the School of Biomedical Sciences at both Queensland University of Technology and the University of Queensland.