Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the lungs that often starts in childhood but affects people of all ages. It is extremely prevalent in Australia, with approximately 1 in 6 children and 1 in 9 adults being diagnosed. If poorly controlled, asthma can cause breathing difficulties and can be fatal. In fact, the WHO estimated that over 400 000 people die from asthma each year. The socio-economic impacts are also enormous as asthma can impact the individual and their family’s quality of life, as well as their ability to participate in the workforce, and is a major burden on healthcare resources.
Medical research allows us to learn more about the cellular and molecular processes involved in disease onset, progression, and exacerbations, and this in turn will lead to the development of new and improved therapeutics. Most people think of allergens as the major trigger of asthma attacks, however an infection with a respiratory virus is also a common cause of an exacerbation. This association has been linked to an impaired antiviral response, suggesting that new treatments that overcome this defect will be beneficial. In the last 10 years, basic and clinical research has also revealed that there are many different subtypes of asthma. This is important because each subtype may have different underlying causes and disease-specific pathways, and therefore diagnosing the subtype may allow for more tailored treatments and better health outcomes.
Understanding the developmental origins of disease and its progression to severe persistent asthma is critical as this will reveal new targets for preventative intervention.
We are employing clinical and experimental approaches, to better understand the cues by which microbial exposures promote immune development and exploring the therapeutic potential of probiotics and helminths to prevent and/or treat allergic diseases.