Asthma Research Bursary awarded to UCD researcher aiming to help obese people

Posted 2 July, 2019

A researcher at University College Dublin has been awarded 2019’s Asthma Research Bursary to continue to improve the lives of obese people with asthma.

Dr David Watchorn, of the UCD School of Medicine, will use the bursary to fund research investigating whether a particular hormone increases the effectiveness of asthma medication for people living with obesity.

“My [work] aims to find a solution to this problem by looking at the effects of a hormone, already used to treat Type 2 Diabetes, which may potentially hold the key to helping countless people who have asthma and are obese,” said Dr Watchorn.

The Asthma Research Bursary, which aims to improve the lives of people with asthma and their families, is a joint collaboration between the Asthma Society of Ireland, the Irish Thoracic Society and Novartis Ireland and is worth €10,000.

The yearly prize is open to all medical and allied healthcare professionals based in Ireland who are also members of the Irish Thoracic Society.

Dr Watchorn’s winning study, entitled ‘Evaluation of inflammatory mediators in an asthmatic population on GLP-1 analogue therapy for weight management’ will be completed in 2019.

The hormone glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) appears to reduce the classic 'allergic' inflammation that causes asthma.

Already used to treat Type 2 Diabetes and morbid obesity, (GLP-1) suppresses appetite and slows the emptying of the stomach, as well as having effects on other hormones that control blood sugar levels.

This study aims to research the effects of the hormone on people with asthma who are also obese.

“Links between obesity and asthma have been recognised for a number of decades, but we still have limited understanding as to the reasons for the link between the two conditions,” Dr Watchorn said.

“In the mainstay of asthma treatment, inhaled corticosteroids are less effective at controlling asthma in obese individuals than in non-obese individuals, thus there is an unmet clinical need for new treatments in this group.”

CEO of the Asthma Society of Ireland, Sarah O’Connor, said: “Asthma has now evolved from being a solitary disease that is treated the same in all people with asthma, to a more varied disease in both how it affects people and the underlying mechanisms causing it.

“There are 390,000 people with asthma in Ireland and sadly asthma deaths are continuing to rise, with one person now dying every six days as a result of their asthma.

“That is why it is so important for us to support new research through our bursary and to help us to learn more about potential life changing treatments for people who have asthma and are also obese.”

Professor Ross Morgan, President of the Irish Thoracic Society, added: “We believe that supporting asthma research and, specifically, encouraging early career investigators into work on asthma is vital to advancing the care of people with asthma in Ireland and is a key positive consequence of funding this bursary.”

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations