Allergy Breakthrough with Gene Therapy
Using gene therapy, scientists have been able to 'turn-off' the immune response which causes allergic reaction in animals.
It might soon be possible for a single treatment to provide life-long protection against harsh allergies including asthma. An immunology research team at The University of Queensland led by Professor Ray Steptoe has figured out how to disable the immune response that triggers allergic reactions. The research team operates out of the university's Diamantina Institute. Professor Steptoe's lab is situated at the Translational Research Institute. The research was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Asthma Foundation. The research team's findings are published in JCI Insight.
The Basics of Allergies and Asthma
When an individual has an allergy or a flare-up of asthma, the symptoms he experiences stem from immune cell reactions to proteins within the allergen. Allergies and asthma recur over and over again as the immune cells, referred to as T-cells, gradually create a type of immune memory. As a result, they resist treatments. Steptoe and his research team are now capable of wiping the memories of T-cells in animals. They have successfully done so with gene therapy that desensitizes the immune system to allow for the tolerance of pain.
About the Breakthrough
Steptoe's research team made use of an experimental asthma allergen. They took blood stem cells, inserted a gene that regulates the allergen protein and put it into the recipient. These engineered cells generated new blood cells. The protein is expressed in these new blood cells. Specific immune cells are targeted in order for the allergic response to be turned off.
The experimental asthma allergen worked so effectively that it is possible the research could be used to treat those who suffer from traditional allergies to foods. Examples include allergies to nuts, shellfish, bee venom and an array of other substances. Professor Steptoe indicates the findings will soon be subjected to additional pre-clinical investigation. The next step is to replicate the results with human cells in a lab setting.
The Goal of Gene Therapy in the Context of Allergies
Professor Steptoe states the end goal is to make use of single injected gene therapy rather than repeated short-term treatments that attempt to reduce allergy symptoms. Such short-term treatments are successful in some instances and unsuccessful in others.
Professor Steptoe's team has not reached the point where gene therapy is as straightforward as receiving a flu jab yet his group is hard at work on making it as simple and safe as possible. Their aim is for gene therapy to be used on an extensive cross-section of those plagued by allergies and asthma as well as those who endure potentially deadly food allergies. It is possible that a completely safe “one-off” style gene therapy treatment for traditional allergies, asthma, and food allergies will be available in the near future.
Jane AL-Kouba et al, Allergen-encoding bone marrow transfer inactivates allergic T cell responses, alleviating airway inflammation, JCI Insight (2017). DOI: 10.1172/jci.insight.85742