A STUDY has shown for the first time that genetics may play a part in how well children respond to treatment for asthma.

Researchers at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) say their findings indicate that children’s asthma symptoms could be better controlled with personalised treatments.

Dr Tom Ruffles, honorary consultant in paediatric respiratory medicine, worked with a study team led by Professor Somnath Mukhopadhyay, chairman in paediatrics at the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital and BSMS.

Dr Ruffles and Professor Mukhopadhyay presented the results from their trial at the virtual European Respiratory Society International Congress.

According to Dr Ruffles, asthma affects one in 11 children in the UK and a child is admitted to hospital because of their asthma every 18 minutes.

He told the conference: “Asthma is a common condition in children that causes coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing.

“We have a number of medicines that are generally effective in treating children with asthma, but they don’t work equally well for all children.

“We think that genetic differences could have an effect on whether these medicines work and that’s what we wanted to examine in this study.”

Previous research suggests the majority of children with asthma will benefit from standard treatment with a medicine called salmeterol and their regular steroid inhaler.

However about one in seven children have a small genetic difference which means using this medication could actually result in them having more asthma symptoms.

The BSMS study involved 241 young people aged between 12 and 18 who were all being treated for asthma.

Participants were randomly assigned either to receive treatment according to existing guidelines, or treatment according to particular genetic differences – their genotype – an approach known as personalised medicine.

Children in the personalised medicine group were treated with an alternative asthma medicine called montelukast.

Researchers followed the children for a year to monitor their quality of life, with a score between one and seven according to how their symptoms were and whether their normal activities were limited by their asthma.

They found that for children with a particular gene who were given personalised treatment, they experienced an improvement in their quality of life score.

Professor Mukhopadhyay said: “These results are very promising because they show for the first time, that it could be beneficial to test for certain genetic differences in children with asthma and select medication according to those differences. In this study we saw only a modest effect, but this may be partly because the children’s asthma was generally very well controlled and only a few children experienced any serious symptoms during the 12-month period.

“Larger trials, with a focus on those with poorer asthma control, may help us determine the true benefit for children of prescribing in this way.”