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Spray may help asthma patients breathe

USF scientists in conjunction with the Joy McCann Culverhouse Airway Disease Center have designed a new nasal spray that may make it easier for asthmatics to breathe.

The research has shown that the spray helps reduce common asthma symptoms such as allergen-induced airway inflammation and hyper-reactivity, said Shyam Mohapatra, the principal investigator and director of basic research for the division of allergy and immunology and the Joy McCann Culverhouse Airway Disease Center. In lab tests the spray prevented bronchial spasms in mice.

The nasal spray contains nanoparticles that deliver a much-needed protein-producing gene, interferon gamma, to the lungs. Interferon gamma is a protein produced by a specific kind of T-cell in the body, Mohapatra said. In addition, people who have less of this protein tend to be asthmatic.

Mohapatra said the delivery vehicle, which is used to administer the interferon gamma to the lungs, is called chitosan. Chitosan is produced from cells called chitin that are found in crustaceans, such as shellfish. Chitosan is also used commercially in food additives as well as diet supplements.

“It is very useful in delivering drugs into the body because it breaks down quickly without building up in the body,” Mohapatra said.

DNA from the interferon gamma is administered to the lungs by attaching itself to the chitosan nanodelivery vehicle and being absorbed into the body through the nasal spray, Mohapatra said.

Once the interferon gamma DNA reaches the lungs, the chitosan breaks down and the epithelial cells in the lungs take in the DNA. The epithelial cells are gatekeeper cells in the lungs that help to filter out pollution, he said.

Once the epithelial cells bond to the DNA, they begin producing the interferon gamma based on the DNA provided. The epithelial cells continue to produce the interferon gamma for 10 days. Because the gatekeeper cells begin to produce the interferon gamma on their own, the nasal spray only needs to be used once a week, Mohapatra said.

This new process of administering interferon gamma to the lungs of asthmatics has shown to be more effective than the other methods used.

A previous method that administered interferon gamma DNA to the lungs was a viral method, said Gary Hellermann, a biology scientist and research assistant in the Department of Medicine.

Hellermann said this procedure used viruses as the delivery vehicles for the DNA, but unfortunately this procedure caused immune resistance and side effects.

According to Mohopatra one of the main reasons that chitosan is being used as the delivery vehicle for this nasal spray is because it is non-immunogenic.

“It does not mount an immune response because the gene is normally produced in the body. Your body does not make antibodies to your own genes,” Mohapatra said.

Chitosan has been used for a long time to deliver drugs to the body as well as DNA, Hellermann said.

“We are just borrowing from what other people have published on it, but our particular method of doing it is what’s different. The inter-nasal route that goes directly into the lungs is our idea to get the medicine, the interferon gamma, directly to the cells that need it,” Hellermann said.

Based on the positive results from the research done with mice, the National Institute of Health has awarded $1.16 million to Mohapatra and his team to investigate the use of the treatment on humans to see if it is as effective.

Mohapatra said he was in the process of filing an application with the Institutional Review Board at USF to start researching the effects of the nasal spray on humans. He said he hopes to get approval within two months and begin working with human volunteers by early next year.

Although this delivery system of DNA-based drugs is relatively new, Hellermann sees this as the future of medicine.

“Using DNA based drugs to specifically tailor the therapy to the individual is the future. It’s not one size fits all anymore,” Hellermann said. “It’s how can we do this so that you will benefit the most and have the fewest side effects.”