Another piece of the asthma puzzle

Just got my lung biopsy report back from Dr Wenzel. Seems I have high levels of a type of cell called a mast cell. A “normal” (not cancer) cell that has long been seen in asthma patients. But, mine are a slightly different version, which seems to be more common in people with really bad asthma. These new findings, along with all my other test results from the SARP study, are starting to paint a clearer picture of why my asthma is so severe.

If there’s any good news in all this, it’s that there’s a new drug in the pipeline that could possibly help people like me who have this cellular abnormality.

Dr Wenzel to me;

( 2-24-2010)

Steve, At long last, some MICROSCOPIC pictures of your airway! These are “orange colored STAIN” to identify cells called mast cells. The first AE2typrt identifies mast cells which make tryptase (an enzyme…. we don’t really know what it does, but it identifies this type of mast cell) the 2nd AE2chym is a different enzyme (chymase) also made by mast cells, but a different “type” of mast cells. As you can VISUALLY tell from the 1st slide, you have “orange” everywhere. LOTS and LOTS of mast cells (even though almost all of the OTHER cells we associate with asthma (eosinophils, lymphocytes) are gone) And, interestingly, about 50% or more of these mast cells make the 2nd enzyme chymase, (2nd slide) which we ONLY see in severe asthma. WE think understanding what causes this increase in these cells is REALLY critical to understanding severe asthma. We are WORKING On that… but you clearly fit the picture that we have seen in other severe asthmatics, maybe even to a greater degree than many.

Finally, you ALSO have an epithelial layer (the top of the slide with the oval-like holes in it) and some cilia on top) which is MOSTLY mucus producing cells. LOTS AND LOTS of them too. We think the mast cells and the mucus cells are somehow related and we are working on that. And, there MAY be some drugs that block PGD2 (a prostaglandin molecule also made by mast cells) which MIGHT help your asthma… but probably wont be able to try those for another year or 2 as part of a study, and if they work, 5+ years as a marketed drug. But, there MIGHT be hope!

Sally E. Wenzel, MD
Director, University of Pittsburgh Asthma Institute @UPMC/Univ of Pittsburgh SOM
Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine
NW 931 Montefiore
3459 Fifth Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

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7 thoughts on “Another piece of the asthma puzzle

  1. Ok so I definitely need to brush up on my immunology so I can understand this a bit better. But that is a VERY neat piece of the puzzle.

    PS thanks for undergoing a BIOPSY for all that.

  2. Amazing information! Thanks so much for sharing this with us. Maybe this will give the Dr.'s a clearer picture on what they need to do to treat YOU. And I hope the new meds that are on their way are something that will work for you.

  3. wow very interesting. but thats great that they think there is some hope bout the immunology side and getting some sort of drugs to help on the cell side.

  4. sort of greek to me, but it looks interesting that they might have found something to help with your asthma. Sorry i haven't relied to your email asking about Calgary. I have not raced it so i can't offer any advice on it.

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