Gurjit Khurana Hershey, MD, PhD.

Gurjit Khurana Hershey, MD, PhD

Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s have identified a gene that appears to explain why a significant percentage of children with asthma fail to respond to corticosteroid treatment.

The findings, published April 21, 2015, in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, indicate that testing for the gene VNN-1 could help identify children who need an alternative to the most common treatment for chronic asthma and acute asthma attacks.

“Difficult-to-treat patients account for over 50 percent of health care costs associated with asthma,” says Gurjit Khurana Hershey, MD, PhD, senior author of the study and Director of the Division of Asthma Research at Cincinnati Children’s. “This study provides the basis for a biomarker to determine which patients might be best to target with new treatments.”

The Cincinnati Children’s team found VNN-1 by performing genome-wide analysis of nasal epithelial cells collected from 57 children admitted to the hospital with acute asthma exacerbations. The search started with a candidate list of 20,000 genes, which was quickly whittled down to eight strong possibilities.

The team, which included first author, Chang Xiao, MD, PhD, and colleagues from five other divisions at Cincinnati Children’s, used a series of tests to determine that VNN-1 was the one gene on the list that is required for inhaled steroids to work during an asthma attack.

Now the search has begun to evaluate drugs that target the VNN-1 pathway as potential asthma treatments.