There may be new hope for people who suffer from asthma or other respiratory disorders such as chronic obstruction pulmonary disease (COPD). Scientists from Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and Shanghai University have developed a drug that they claim is a more effective treatment than the currently-used bronchodilator inhalers.

By performing tests on asthmatic lab mice, the researchers discovered that a protein known as metallothionein-2 (MT-2) relaxes airway smooth muscle cells and opens the airways. While MT-2 occurs naturally in the body, concentrations of it are over 50 percent lower than normal in asthmatic lung tissue. It was also found that mice lacking the protein were two times more susceptible to asthma.

After examining over 6,000 compounds, the scientists identified an MT-2-based drug called TSG12. In mouse tests, it was even more effective than inhalers at relaxing the airway smooth muscle cells, expanding the pulmonary airways, and reducing pulmonary resistance.

Additionally, it proved to be non-toxic to human cells. Clinical trials on people are the next step in the development process.

"It is not a cure, but I think this treatment will give people a lot of hope," says Rutgers immunologist Luis Ulloa. "There are a growing number of patients with no alternative because the current treatments either have critical side effects or aren't working. We hope this will give patients a better option."

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.