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VIP Gene is Protective Against Asthma; Researchers Poised to Develop Replacement Therapy

STONY BROOK, N.Y., June 16, 2006 – Researchers at Stony Brook University have identified Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide (VIP) gene as an "anti-asthma" gene, a finding which could have major implications in the treatment of asthma and asthma-related conditions. Their findings are reported in today's online version of the American Journal of Physiology, Lung Cell and Molecular Physiology.

Drs. Anthony M. Szema, Sayyed A. Hamidi, Sergey Lyubsky, Kathleen G. Dickman, Tarek Abdel-Razek and John J. Chen, under the leadership of Sami I. Said, who is Dr. Szema’s mentor, report that the VIP gene is protective against asthma.

According to Dr. Said, "This is an important step forward in clarifying the genetic basis of asthma. There are probably many other genetic, as well as environmental factors involved. The observations provide a basis for the introduction of more rationale treatments for asthma, possibly including VIP itself or a similar compound."

The researchers found that mice deficient in the gene for Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide (VIP) express two major features of asthma, namely airway hyperresponsiveness (twitchy airways) and airway inflammation (inflammatory cells around the airways). VIP was discovered by Dr. Said some 35 years ago. The mice were generated by Dr. James A. Waschek, of UCLA, and bred in New York for these studies, which also showed that treating these mice with VIP reversed the airway hyperresponsiveness and improved the inflammation.

This project was funded by grants from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including a mentored clinical scientist development award for Dr. Szema under the auspices of Dr. Said.

Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition caused by inflammation of the airways that affects 20 million people in the United States, nearly 9 million of whom are children. Asthma tends to run in families. The most common symptoms are coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

Dr. Said is Professor of Medicine, Physiology, and Graduate Program in Pharmacology. He has authored or co-authored over 370 publications in pulmonary physiology & medicine, as well as in the field of neuropeptides especially VIP. Among the many recognitions he has received, he was named the Amberson Lecturer for 2000, the highest academic honor of the American Thoracic Society.

Dr. Szema is assistant professor of medicine and chief of the Allergy & Clinical Immunology Section at Stony Brook University Hospital and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Northport, N.Y. He holds four board certifications and led the first study assessing the impact of the World Trade Center collapse on pediatric asthma patients as reported in the March 2004 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

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