PIONEERING research into the genetics of Hong Kong asthma sufferers could identify the genes which cause the respiratory disease - and help prevent it. Overseas research suggests the secret to asthma, the respiratory affliction which can be fatal, lies in specific genes which doctors believe predispose people to the disease. Chinese University Associate Professor Dr Christopher Lai Kei-wai said his study would be the first to look at the genes of Chinese asthma sufferers. The two-year project will test the DNA of up to 500 sufferers and their families - if Dr Lai can secure the million dollar funding. A team from Prince of Wales Hospital and Chinese University will conduct the research in collaboration with Southampton University's Department of Medicine. Doctors will analyse the DNA for 'candidate genes' which have been identified overseas as prevalent among sufferers. Research in Britain has narrowed down the search for the asthma gene to chromosomes five and 11 - doctors believe certain genes in these chromosomes predispose people to develop allergic responses, including asthma. But because each chromosome contains many genes, the culprit has yet to be found. Dr Lai said: 'It is important to study the genetics of asthma because that means you can diagnose the disease much earlier, just after birth or even before birth if the woman is carrying that gene.' Mothers carrying the gene would be advised of measures to reduce the chances of a baby developing asthma including lessening exposure to dust mites and encouraging breast feeding. Once the gene had been identified, adolescents carrying it could be treated with medicine to see if it prevented asthma. Dr Lai said: 'It is important this preliminary result found in Western countries is confirmed in a different population. I am not aware of any data in Chinese on asthma genetics. 'We are cautiously optimistic, but there is a great chance that one could be able to identify the genes which predispose one to asthma.'