Updated 01 July 2013

Genetic risks for asthma may persist into adulthood

People with a higher genetic risk for asthma are more likely to develop the disease in childhood and more likely to continue having asthma into adulthood.


People with more genetic risks for asthma are not only more likely to develop the disease in childhood, but also more likely to continue to have asthma into adulthood, according to a new study.

Previous studies have linked several genes to increased asthma risk, so the researchers wanted to investigate the cumulative effect of those genes.

For the study, they analysed data from 880 people in New Zealand who have been followed since they were born in 1972 or 1973. Those with more genetic risks for asthma developed asthma earlier in life than those with fewer genetic risks. Among study participants who developed asthma in childhood, asthma that persisted into adulthood was more likely in those with more genetic risks.

Newly discovered genetic risks

These patients also had more allergic reactions associated with severe and persistent asthma and developed lung function problems. Their quality of life also suffered because they missed work and school more often and were admitted to hospital more often due to asthma.

The study appears June 28 in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

"We've been able to look at how newly discovered genetic risks relate to the life course of asthma at an unprecedented level of resolution," Daniel Belsky, a postdoctoral fellow at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy and the Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development, said in a university news release.

However, much more research is needed before it may be possible to use genetic risk scores for asthma in patients, he noted.

"It will be important to explore how these genetic risks play out in environments that differ in terms of air pollution or other important, modifiable factors," Belsky said.

He added that the study could lead to a better understanding of the biology of asthma and help efforts to develop new ways to prevent and treat asthma, which affects 26 million people in the United States.

More information

The US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about asthma.

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Professor Keertan Dheda has received of several prestigious awards including the 2014 Oppenheimer Award, and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and holds 3 patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies. He serves on the editorial board of the journals PLoS One, the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, Lancet Respiratory Diseases and Nature Scientific Reports, amongst others.Read his full biography at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute

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