Some people try to breathe – but can’t. If the lung responds to harmless substances with a massive defense effort, this excessive immune response is termed allergic asthma. The results are constriction and inflammation of the airways down to the fine bronchioles and alveoli as well as bronchial hyperresponsiveness, which is the technical term for hypersensitivity to unspecific stimuli such as cold air.
The prevalence of allergic asthma has been increasing dramatically over the past few years. However, asthma is not the only disease on the rise: other life-threatening conditions of the respiratory tract, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD in short), pulmonary fibrosis, and infectious diseases are also gaining importance. At the same time, today’s drug development is facing a crisis: several million euros have to be invested in the development of a new pharmaceutical, but whether or not a drug candidate will ever reach market authorization remains open for a long time during the development process. In this context, it has become obvious that animal models are only of limited predictivity, which is why models that reflect essential elements of human pathology and are based on human cells and tissues (Fig. 1) need to be used as early as possible.
Fraunhofer ITEM has developed ex-vivo cultures of human explants and uses these for efficacy testing of new drugs – in order that people can breathe according to their body’s needs.