Grant of €4.4 million for research on personalized treatment asthma and COPD

UMCG receives a grant of €4.4 million from the Dutch Nationaal Groeifonds to develop new treatments for Asthma and COPD.
Grant of 4.4 million for research on personalized treatment asthma and COPD

The aim of the research is to achieve more personalized  treatments of asthma and COPD using cell models of the lungs. A special feature of this research is that it will be conducted animal-free. The Groningen Research Institute for Asthma and COPD (GRIAC) will conduct the research and the study is led by pediatric pulmonologist Gerard Koppelman.

The researchers want to find out what starting points there are for developing new drugs for asthma and COPD. Furthermore, they want to find an answer to the question of which treatment works best in which patient. And finally, the researchers want to identify new biomarkers that can predict the onset, course and worsening of asthma and COPD.

Individual treatment of asthma and COPD necessary

Both lung diseases asthma and COPD are chronic, complex diseases. Various, very different factors such as heredity, air pollution and viruses play a role in the onset and progression of the diseases. It is precisely all these different factors that make a treatment that works well for one patient less effective for another. This makes personal, individual treatment for asthma or COPD necessary.

Specific research for individual treatment

According to Gerard Koppelman, experimental animal models have led to a better understanding of both diseases. They have also contributed to the development of anti-inflammatories and pulmonary dilators. Koppelman: 'But given the complex and varied nature of asthma and COPD, it is not possible to develop a personalized treatment through experimental animal models. For that, we need to conduct research using patient-specific methods.'

Biomarkers that predict disease onset and progression

In the short term, Koppelman uses cell cultures and data from patients for this purpose. With these, he wants to identify biomarkers that predict the onset and course of the diseases in patients. Koppelman: 'With this, we try to offer timely and better treatments for individual patients. Furthermore, we want to improve research with airway epithelial cells for drug screening by using new insights about the origins of asthma and COPD to develop new cell models.'

In the future, 3D culture models of cells and blood vessels?

According to Koppelman, this also provides a basis for further and in-depth research. 'We might in the near future be able to identify subtypes of asthma or COPD with biomarkers and develop targeted treatments for these subtypes. Or we will compare genetic backgrounds of patients who do or do not respond to treatments. This will allow us to identify new targets for treatment and better predict the response to existing treatments. And in the long term, we may be able to develop 3D culture models that can mimic airway cells, immune cells and blood vessels. '

The grant for this asthma and COPD research is part of a much larger financial support for a new Centre for Probe-Free Biomedical Translation (CPBT), coordinated by the University Medical Center Utrecht. The aim of this centre is to promote safer, more effective and better medical treatments while reducing animal suffering.

CPBT will use the contribution from the Dutch Nationaal Groeifonds (NGF) to accelerate the transition to animal-free biomedical innovations. This will bring economic and societal benefits: better medicines and less animal testing.

In this research on asthma and COPD, the GRIAC is collaborating with Pharmacy at the University of Groningen, the UMCs of Leiden, Utrecht and Amsterdam , the Netherlands Lung Foundation and  pharmaceutical companies.