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Baylor College of Medicine News

NIH funds study of beta blockers in treating asthma

Baylor College of Medicine researchers will lead a three-year, $4.2 million study funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to determine whether drugs called beta blockers can ease airway narrowing in patients with asthma and examine potential mechanisms. Researchers from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, also will participate.

"Previously, beta blockers, which are usually used to treat blood pressure and heart failure, were thought to cause airway constriction and thus were avoided in patients with asthma," said Dr. Nick Hanania, associate professor of medicine - pulmonary at BCM, and the study’s principal investigator. "However, newer research shows that when a beta blocker called nadolol is given to mice with asthma in low doses and then gradually increased, it can actually benefit their ability to breathe."

Hanania and colleagues have conducted two pilot studies in patients with mild asthma and found that, as with mice, starting nadolol with a low dose and gradually increasing it reduces the tendency of the airways to narrow.

In asthma, the airways are inflamed, causing mucus production. In the studies in mice, mucus production in the airways stopped after the animals received nadolol, said Hanania. This alleviated airway narrowing.

The federally funded study not only will allow the researchers to study the use of this beta blocker in more patients, it will help them determine how the drug works in the body.

If the results of the larger study are promising, Hanania and colleagues hope to study patients with more severe asthma.

This study represents an expanded view of the value of certain beta blockers. Previously, they had not been considered a good treatment for heart failure, either.

"They are now the treatment of choice at low doses for heart failure," said Hanania. "We hope that, just as they are a new paradigm for heart failure treatment, they might prove to be valuable in treating asthma as well."

Men and women between the ages of 18 and 60 years who have mild asthma and are not currently taking any other asthma medications besides rescue medication (albuterol) can take part in the study. Volunteers will be compensated for their time and travel.

If you want to take part, call 713-873-8772 or e-mail asthma@bcm.edu for more information.

Grant Number U01AI095050 from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases will fund this work. INVION LTD (Brisbane, Australia) is the regulatory sponsor to the FDA.