New asthma target identified


McGill research group part of team publishing in Science

A new target for control of early-stage asthma has been identified by McGill University professor Qutayba Hamid, working as part of a team whose landmark study appears in the latest issue of the journal Science.

Dr. Hamid heads a research group on airway inflammation at the Meakins-Christie Laboratories of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC). The group conducted research on human tissue, while colleagues at Yale University worked with animal subjects.

What the researchers discovered is that a substance called acidic mammalian chitinase (AMCase) — previously known to be associated with parasitic infections — also plays a role in the T helper-2 (Th2) inflammation of airways associated with allergic asthma. Inhibiting the expression of AMCase may therefore prove to be effective in controlling asthma.

Dr. Hamid cautions that these findings do not suggest a way to prevent or cure asthma but that they might lead, in the next five to 10 years, to new treatments to help control the condition. In a patient whose asthma is not controlled, the airways are often permanently affected and the condition becomes chronic.

Dr. Hamid stressed that the importance of research on asthma continues to grow with the increased incidence worldwide. It is estimated that there are about two million asthma sufferers in Canada and that about five to 10 per cent of the world's population is affected. Recent research has provided strong evidence to support the "hygiene hypothesis" — that cleaner environments lead to fewer childhood infections, thereby interfering with normal development of the immune system and favouring Th2 inflammation and asthma.

The study on AMCase was conducted over a period of more than 12 months and involved processing more than 100 samples.

Dr. Hamid is Associate Director of the Meakins-Christie Laboratories and Leader of the Respiratory Axis of the MUHC Research Institute. McGill and MUHC researchers have been on the front lines of asthma research for more than 20 years. Their research is funded by grants from the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), including a group grant on airway inflammation from the CIHR. The Meakins-Christie labs constitute one of the few centres for translational (lab to clinic) research on asthma in the world.

About McGill University:

McGill University is Canada's leading research-intensive university and has earned an international reputation for scholarly achievement and scientific discovery. Founded in 1821, McGill has 21 faculties and professional schools which offer more than 300 programs from the undergraduate to the doctoral level. McGill attracts renowned professors and researchers from around the world and top students from more than 150 countries, creating one of the most dynamic and diverse education environments in North America. There are approximately 23,000 undergraduate students and 7,000 graduate students. McGill was recently named Canadian Research University of the Year in the Medical/Doctoral category based on research funding and publication information compiled by Research Infosource. It is one of two Canadian members of the American Association of Universities. McGill's two campuses are located in Montreal, Canada. For more information, please see

About the McGill University Health Centre:

The MUHC is one of North America's most comprehensive academic health centres. It is a merger of five teaching hospitals affiliated with McGill University — the Montreal Children's, Montreal General, Royal Victoria, and Montreal Neurological Hospitals, as well as the Montreal Chest Institute. The MUHC, whose clinical missions are paediatrics, women's health, neurosciences, mental health, medicine and surgery, sees over one million patients each year. Please consult the website for additional information: