Australian scientists develop unique animal model for asthma

The State Government of Victoria, Australia has announced that Melbourne veterinary scientists have developed a unique animal model for asthma that may help drug companies fast track the creation of therapies for the disease.

Scientists at The University of Melbourne's Centre for Animal Biotechnology have developed a sheep model that is the first that accurately mimics human response to asthma triggers like house dust mite. The patented technology will be showcased at BIO 2005, the world's biggest biotechnology conference held in Philadelphia from June 19-22, by Biocomm, Victoria's international life-science business development specialists.

Asthma is Australia's most widespread chronic health problem affecting more than 2 million Australians: 1 in 4 children, 1 in 7 teenagers and 1 in 10 adults. At present the cause of asthma is not known and there is no cure.

One of the key barriers to developing a cure for the disease has been the lack of a good animal model for the testing of therapies. The laboratory mouse has a different lung structure to humans. Scientists at The University of Melbourne's Centre for Animal Biotechnology have taken three years to develop the world's first animal model which accurately mimics the progression of asthma in humans.

According to Dr Jean-Pierre Scheerlinck, Managing Director of Allergenix, the sheep is an excellent model for human asthma. "They have similar lung size and anatomy to us and they experience a similar inflammatory response to allergens such as house dust mite," he said. "The international pharmaceutical market is keen to have a good animal model such as ours to test asthma treatments.

The patented model -- which uses normal sheep treated with common house dust mite -- is now being marketed internationally by the Melbourne University spin-off, Allergenix. At BIO 2005, the Allergenix technology will be part of a suite of projects that will be looking for commercialisation partners through the participation of Biocomm.

House dust mite is the major trigger of asthma in up to 80% of cases.

The world market for asthma drugs, valued at $13.3 billion in 2003, is forecast to grow to $19.0 billion by 2009.

The sheep model is also similar to humans in the size of the animal; the ability to deliver drugs in a similar ways to humans (inhalation); being able to compare the delivery of a drug to one lung, while using the other as a control and in their immune responses to both drugs and house dust mite allergen.

Dr Scheerlinck said that -- while there is another sheep model currently in use for asthma studies in the US, the allergen used to trigger the disease is not one that causes asthma in humans.

Seeded with assistance from the State Government of Victoria, Biocomm provides international business development and licensing services to its biotech and life sciences clients.

Asthma - Background: Asthma is a disorder affecting the airways of the lung. People with asthma have very sensitive airways that narrow in response to certain triggers, leading to difficulty in breathing. The airway narrowing is caused by inflammation and swelling of the airway lining, the tightening of the airway muscles, and the production of excess mucus. This results in a reduced airflow in and out of the lungs.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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