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New Asthma Gene Identified

A gene that is strongly associated with a risk of developing childhood onset asthma was identified by an international team of scientists , whose findings are published today in the journal Nature.

In a genetic study of more than 2,000 children, scientists from the University of Michigan and colleagues from London, France and Germany found genetic markers that dramatically increase a child's risk for asthma.

These markers are located on chromosome 17, and children with this marker had higher levels of a new gene called ORMDL3 in their blood, which occurs in higher amounts in children with asthma. The presence of the disease-associated version of ORMDL3 increases the risk of asthma by 60-70 percent, the study suggests.

"In terms of an asthma gene, there have been quite a few reports but not one that can be clearly reproduced in samples," said Goncalo Abecasis, associate professor at the U-M School of Public Health. "I think eventually it will lead to new therapies because it points to a specific biological molecular pathway. Once we understand the biology and we know the players, it's possible to target with specific drugs."

Childhood asthma treatments are heavily focused on allergic responses, since most children with asthma also have many allergies. The discovery of a so-called 'asthma gene' would provide a new set of mechanisms to try and modify and manage childhood asthma, Abecasis said.

"Before we finished the paper, we would have guessed (ORMDL3) would be a gene with a well-understood role in allergic responses, but that is not what we found," said Abecasis, noting that the gene has no known relation to allergic responses.

Asthma, a complex disease caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, is the most common chronic disease of childhood. Asthma occurs in 7-10 percent of children in the United States and one child in seven in the United Kingdom.
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