Allergy research ‘breakthrough’ could lead to treatment in a decade, UQ researchers say

Sufferers of severe allergies like asthma and lethal food allergies could gain lifetime relief in a single treatment, according to scientists at the University of Queensland. The researchers believe a simple injection that will “turn off” the immune response that causes allergic reactions in affected people could be available within 10 years. Immunologist Associate Professor Ray Steptoe said it was a “major breakthrough”. “Learning how to turn off this immune response has been challenge for immunotherapy for a long time,” Dr Steptoe said. “We haven’t quite got it to the point where it’s as simple as getting a flu jab, so we are working on making it simpler and safer so it could be used across a wide cross-section of affected individuals.” Dr Steptoe said allergic symptoms, such as breathing difficulties, occur when immune cells known as T-cells react to the protein in allergens. “The challenge is that these T-cells develop a form of immune ‘memory’ and become very resistant to treatments,” he said. Therapy to ‘wipe’ cell memory The researchers worked with an asthma allergen and used gene therapy to break the damaging cycle. “We have now been able ‘wipe’ the memory of these T-cells in animals with gene therapy, de-sensitising the immune system so that it tolerates the protein,” Dr Steptoe said. “The research could be applied treat those who have severe allergies to peanuts, bee venom, shell fish and the like.” Importantly, the therapy specifically targets the memory for the allergen protein, while leaving other immune responses unaffected. “It does it in a highly targeted way, without turning off the memory that is protective such as the important immune response you get from vaccinations, the ones that protect you from the flu and other infectious diseases we’re vaccinated against,” he said. The research findings have been welcomed by the Asthma Foundation of Queensland and New South Wales, which said it looked forward to the development of future treatments. CEO Dr Peter Anderson said more than one million Australians suffered with asthma symptoms. “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,” he said.

ABC Science News, 3 June 2017 ; ;