Scientists from the university led the study along with researchers from Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in the United States.
They found that the amount of a certain protein – metallothionein-2 (MT-2) – in a patient’s blood serum increased after acupuncture treatment but decreased following asthma attacks.
This suggested that the protein, which smooths muscle cells, helps to prevent or treat attacks.
Over the course of four years, the team sifted through more than 6,000 compounds before identifying a drug, TSG12, that could activate the protein in humans.
By activating the protein, the drug relaxes throat muscles and opens airways, effectively stopping an asthma attack.
“Traditional acupuncture gave us a new entry point and allowed us to focus on a different protein than the one found in Western medicine,” Yang said on Friday. “Although the paper does not mention acupuncture, it was the clinical basis of our preliminary research.”