New breakthrough offers hope for allergy sufferers

Scientists from The University of Queensland believe they have discovered a single treatment that could be a life-long cure for potentially fatal allergies such as asthma.

Credit: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock.com

In a study led by Ray Steptoe (UQ Diamantina Institute), researchers found they could “turn off” the immune response that causes an allergic reaction in mice, a step forward that Asthma UK is calling potentially “very exciting.”

Allergic reactions occur when the immune system over-reacts to an allergen that would usually be harmless. Immune cells called T-cells react to a protein in the allergen that they have previously encountered and “remembered.”

As reported in JCI Insight, Steptoe and colleagues managed to “wipe” this immune memory from the T-cells using gene therapy and therefore desensitized the immune system so that it tolerates the protein. The researchers took blood stem cells and inserted into them a gene that regulates the allergen protein. The engineered cells were then injected into mice’s bone marrow, where they went on to produce new blood cells that express the protein and target specific immune cells to “turn off” the allergic response.

Our work used an experimental asthma allergen, but this research could be applied to treat those who have severe allergies to peanuts, bee venom, shell fish and other substances,"

Lead author Ray Steptoe

The findings need to undergo further pre-clinical investigation, with the next step being to replicate the results using human cells and with the ultimate goal being to create a gene therapy that works in humans after just one injection. This would hopefully replace the current short-term treatments that vary in their effectiveness against allergy symptoms.

“We envisage in the future, with this approach, that they could go to the doctors’ rooms, get a single treatment and that would give them permanent protection from future allergic attacks or asthma attacks,” says Steptoe, who adds that he thinks human trials could begin in five to six years and that treatments could become available to patients after a similar period.

According to Peter Anderson from the Asthma Foundation of Queensland and New South Wales, more than two million Australians have asthma and more than half of those regularly suffer from symptoms. Effective treatments are available for most of these individuals, but patients often face problems with their self-management of the condition.

"The Foundation welcomes the findings of this research and looks forward to a day in the future when a safe one-off treatment may be available that has the potential to eliminate any experience of asthma in vulnerable patients," concludes Anderson.

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