Thousands of individuals with severe asthma can breathe a sigh of relief as scientists say they have developed a new spit test that could help improve asthma diagnosis and treatment. Many asthma patients today take a medicine known as salmeterol which for 1/7 individuals proves to be of little, if any use. Salmeterol is found in Seretide and Servent inhalers and is used primarily to relax the airways in the lungs to allow for easier breathing.

All children once diagnosed are given such an inhaler yet not all will respond – the reason? Genetics. Salmeterol works on beta-2 receptors in the airways, but for some one in seven individuals the receptors are slightly differently shaped meaning the drug fails to properly recognise them. The new spit test essentially allows doctors to reveal the shape of their beta-2 receptors and have the medicine they are using altered to be the correct fit. This new type of diagnosis and treatment forms part of the new era of personalised medicine that is heralded as the future of medicine itself.

The study took 62 individuals with the mutated beta-2 receptors with half being given salmeterol and the other half an alternative drug known as montelukast. The difference between the two groups according to researchers was striking as symptoms improved in montelukast group and the children had less time off school. Though the exact number of children with the mutation who are taking salmeterol, which for them is near-useless,  is unknown, the figure could reach up to 150,000 in the United Kingdom alone.

It appears this is just the beginning of the road for personalised asthma drugs as not only will it require a change in diagnostic practices, it will also require a dramatic change in thought. Asthma is currently thought of as one condition when in reality it is more like a group of varying similar conditions.

Previous studies too have corroborated the theory that the magic blue inhalers contain in fact no magic whatsoever as a previous study led by a team of Cochrane Researchers concluded that individuals using salmeterol are more likely of having serious adverse reactions than those on different types of asthma medications.