The research team, led by Professor John Upham, found that young women make a much stronger immune response to rhinoviruses than young men. These differences disappear after menopause, so they are probably regulated by sex hormones.
Professor Upham said that these findings were crucially important for finding new ways of combating rhinoviruses.
“While these viruses are just a nuisance in healthy people, they can make people with asthma or other chronic lung diseases very unwell,” he said.
“In our efforts to find new ways to prevent these infections, we need to take into account the effects of hormones, and how they affect the immune system.”
Professor Upham said the researchers were studying how the immune system worked — or didn’t work — in people with asthma.
The researchers will further study the effects of hormones on the immune system, with long-term plans for development of a vaccine.
Research team members in the Lung & Allergy Research Centre, UQ School of Medicine, involved in the study included Mrs Melanie Carroll, Dr Stephanie Yerkovich, Dr Antonia Pritchard and Dr Janet Davies.
The research was funded by the Asthma Foundation of Queensland and the National Health and Medical Research Council and was recently published in the journal Respiratory Research.
Media: Professor John Upham, telephone 07 3176 7798 of Jan King at UQ Communications 0413 601 248.