U researchers testing possible asthma treatments

Research has linked asthma with acid reflux, which has treatments available.

Yelena Kibasova

University researchers hope a nationwide study will bring relief to asthmatics.

The pulmonary allergy and critical care division of the department of medicine is holding a study that tests the effects of a proton pump inhibitor, typically used to treat acid reflux disease, on people with asthmatic symptoms.

A link between acid reflux disease and asthma has been established, said Malcolm Blumenthal, the principal investigator of the study and the director of the Asthma and Allergy Program at the University.

ìThe acid in the stomach will go and irritate the lungs Ö and it will make people cough and wheeze,” he said.

It also can cause tightening of the airways, he said.

Acid reflux is common among people with undercontrolled asthma, Blumenthal said.

ìWe hope to identify the subgroup of people who have acid reflex and whether treatment with Nexium will improve their symptoms of asthma,” Blumenthal said.

Researchers are using the Nexium because it is a proton pump inhibitor. Nexium is a Food and Drug Administration-approved drug that is used to treat acid reflux disease, Blumenthal said. The concentration of the study is not on Nexium itself, but on the effects of a class of drugs called proton pump inhibitors.

The study, which began in fall 2005, has three subjects and three more that will be starting at the end of the month, said Sheila Kelleher, the coordinator of the study. Researchers hope to have 22 people participate in the study and are accepting participants for the next year and a half.

Eligible people are those experiencing asthmatic symptoms even though they are using inhaled steroids, Kelleher said. Those that participate in the study may or may not have ìsilent” acid reflux, meaning they have no apparent symptoms.

Those eligible for participation may be awakened by asthma, wake with symptoms, are limited in their activities because of asthma or may have shortness of breath and wheezing. The people also might use inhalers two or more times a week.

These symptoms reflect inadequately controlled asthma, Kelleher said.

Those that are experiencing asthmatic symptoms and are already taking acid reflux disease or heartburn medication are not eligible for the study.

Participants in the study will receive Nexium or a placebo. The people who receive the proton pump inhibitor will take the medication for five to six months, Kelleher said.

ìThey are taking double the usual dose of Nexium Ö to make sure that more than 90 percent of acid in their stomach is being suppressed,” she said.

Blumenthal said he hopes the study will have a positive long-term effect.

ìWe want to improve the quality of life of people with asthma,” he said.

Tom Buckley, a first-year University student who has mild asthma, said the study sounds worthwhile.

ìI know it seems to be a common and more so occurring problem,” he said. ìFor some people especially it can be a pretty big problem.”

There are 20 centers around the nation participating in the study. About 400 adults will participate. The research is sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.