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    Harvard researchers identify gene’s role in asthma

    UNDATED: In this undated image an asthma inhaler is seen dispensing a dose of drug. A report released on May 3, 2005 to mark World Asthma Day claims that one person dies from asthma every hour in Western Europe. (Photo by Getty Images)
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    Researchers at Harvard say they’ve identfied one gene’s role in the development of asthma, in an advance that could pave the way for new treatments.

    The gene GSDMB (gasdermin B) and its link to asthma was studied by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the university said in a statement.

    “Our findings represent important advances in the field of asthma,” Quan Lu, associate professor of environmental genetics and pathophysiology, said in the statement. “Identifying asthma genes and elucidating the disease’s biology are essential steps toward developing new, more effective therapies.”

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    Lu was senior author of a study published last week in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The lead author is Ronald Panganiban, a research associate in Lu’s laboratory.

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    The researchers found that GSDMB is highly expressed in cells that line the airways, and its products, when activated, induce cell pyroptosis, a recently discovered form of cell death linked to airway inflammation and asthma, the university said.

    Lu said in an e-mail that researchers hope the new discovery could lead to a treatment.

    “We have some ideas to deliver GSDMB-suppressing agents . . . into the airway,” Lu said.

    Lu said there is currently no cure for asthma; existing therapies only alleviate its symptoms.

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    “If GSDMB-mediated pyroptosis is the root cause of asthma [which our study suggests], therapies targeting GSDMB could be curative,” Lu said.

    Asthma causes the airways to narrow and swell and produce extra mucus. This can make breathing difficult and trigger coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

    For some people, asthma is a minor nuisance. For others, it can be a major problem that interferes with daily activities and may lead to a life-threatening asthma attack.

    Common causes of asthma include such indoor allergens dust mites and pet dander, outdoor allergens like pollen and mold, tobacco smoke, air pollution and chemicals in the workplace.

    About 15.4 million people in the United States are treated annually for asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The condition costs the US economy more than $80 billion a year in medical expenditures, missed school and work days, and deaths, the agency says.

    Material from Reuters was included in this report. Martin Finucane can be reached at Martin.Finucane@Globe.com