Asthma link to sex hormones is boost for women
RESEARCH into the relationship between sex hormones and asthma could unlock better treatments for millions of women, experts say.
Women are three times more likely to be admitted to hospital and almost twice as likely to die from an asthma attack. Yet for decades, crucial differences between male and female biology have been overlooked during the search for drugs.
The charity Asthma + Lung UK is supporting female scientists who are determined to close the gap while campaigning for more research to address these inequalities. One promising avenue of research is the impact of sex hormones.
Dr Samantha Walker, the charity’s director of research and innovation, said too many clinical trials assumed men and women respond to medications in the same way.
She explained: “Female sex hormones, just like pollen, air pollution and dust, can make asthma symptoms worse or even trigger an attack.
“To prevent this, it’s important to understand why this is and what treatments, new and existing, will be most effective for women of all ages.” Professor Mona Bafadhel, the charity’s head of women and asthma research, is working to address gaps in understanding. She is investigating how oestrogen affects elastin and collagen, the proteins that give body cells shape and structure. Her work at King’s College London focuses on people whose asthma inflames tiny air sacs in their lungs. This makes it harder for oxygen to get into the bloodstream.
Prof Bafadhel said: “There is not enough research into why women are more likely to be hospitalised and die from asthma and what treatments could help. The UK has a great opportunity to become a global leader in research into the link between sex hormones and asthma. It would benefit millions of women.”
Dr Hannah Durrington, a consultant in respiratory medicine at Manchester University, is studying how the body clock affects asthma.
One project is looking at why female night shift workers are more at risk of asthma than male staff and another is considering whether treatments are more effective in the morning or afternoon. Dr Durrington said: “Changing the time of day when treatments are taken to improve effectiveness would be an easy way of improving asthma management.
“This could lead to more tailored care so patients do not take high-dose oral steroids which can cause side effects like osteoporosis or depression.
‘Just like pollen or dust, they can make symptoms worse or even trigger attacks’