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The Asthma Section

Asthma and the Common Cold

University of Calgary scientists probing the common cold and its effect on asthma have made some important discoveries. Recent research led by David Proud, a professor in the faculty of medicine, is the first to look at how every single gene in our bodies responds when infected with a cold virus, the most common of which is rhinovirus.

Proud was able to determine that it is how our immune systems respond to the virus that causes inflammatory symptoms, not the virus itself. He has also investigated an antiviral protein called viperin, which was only recently discovered. It turns out viperin helps to fight the virus. Proud’s team will look at whether it’s possible to boost the body’s natural antivirals as a way to combat rhinovirus.

Research into the cold virus is important for understanding and managing asthma and other conditions. In a healthy lower airway a virus “is not a big deal,” says Proud. But with asthma, “if a virus goes down there and causes more inflammation, it’s problematic.”

His colleague at the University of Calgary, Dr. Richard Leigh, is studying the interplay between asthma and the cold virus. In some children, Leigh believes that it’s possible the structural changes in the airways (that can occur with asthma) may begin with frequent cold viruses – long before the disease is diagnosed.

“We’re beginning to understand that virus plays a big role, perhaps in asthma’s development, certainly in acute attacks,” says Proud.

First published in Allergic Living magazine, Winter 2009 edition.
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