Asthma Test Could Help Thousands Of Children

Thomas Moore, Health and Science Correspondent
Asthma Test Could Help Thousands Of Children

A simple saliva test could identify thousands of children who are taking an asthma treatment that will never work for them.

The test identifies the one in seven people who have a variation in their genes that means they fail to respond to salmeterol.

The drug is prescribed in a purple or green inhaler to patients with severe asthma.

If children were found to carry the mutation they could be prescribed an alternative drug to reduce the risk of an asthma attack.

Professor Somnath Mukhopadhyay, who led the study, told Sky News: "This is very important. We can't have a situation where we have a medicine for children that may not be effective."

Researchers at Brighton and Sussex Medical School and Dundee University monitored 62 children with the mutation.

Results, published in the journal Clinical Science, show that those given a pill called montelukast, instead of salmeterol, improved significantly and needed less time off school.

"The results are pretty exciting," said Prof Mukhopadhyay.

"In the past we have been prescribing one medication after another, finding some are not effective and not knowing why.

"This is the first time we have been able to target treatment according to a patient's genes."

The mutation alters the shape of a receptor in cells lining the airways that salmeterol would normally act on.

Prof Mukhopadhyay said a larger study is now urgently needed to confirm the findings. He hopes to develop a £15 saliva test for the mutation that could be used by GPs.

"In the meantime, parents of children who are taking salmeterol and not improving should see their GP," he said.

The Department of Health said genes are likely to increasingly be used in future to tailor treatment to individuals, but more research is needed before changes are made to asthma treatment.